Friday, January 13, 2006

PONGGAL FESTIVAL


Spilling over with thanks

By BAVANI M.

SQUATTING on the dirt road in front of the 60-year-old Arulmegu Sree Veera Hanuman Temple in Brickfields, the women were busy fanning bubbling pots.

Some sang songs while others chatted away as they patiently waited for their pots filled with sweetened rice to boil over.

The temple grounds have been spruced up and sugar canes and flowers are used to decorate the place.

All of a sudden someone cried the words: “Ponggalo oh Ponggal!” “Ponggalo Ponggal’’ and a lady asked, “Paal pongita?” (Has the milk spilled over?).

Sarojini Balakrishnan was clearly excited, as her pot was the first to boil and spill over.

Soon the other pots began to boil and spilling forth the sweetened milk rice called chakkarai ponggal, creating a frenzied excitement amongst the ladies.

The women were celebrating ponggal, the harvest festival. This Indian festival is celebrated to give thanks for the harvest. Ponggal means “boiling over” in Tamil. The festival is celebrated for four days beginning Jan 13 to Jan 16.

The first day, called Bhogi (Jan 13) is the ritual of throwing away and burning old clothes to mark the end of an old and beginning of a new era.

The second day, called veetu ponggal (Jan 14) is the main celebration whereby Indians give thanks to Mother Earth for her bounty.

On the other hand, Mattu ponggal (cow worship) on Jan 15, is celebrated grandly in India to offer thanks to the cattle, as they help to plough the land and provide milk for the family.

Finally kanni ponggal (Jan 16) is a celebration for young unmarried girls.

The temple's chief priest V. Ganesan said in Malaysia veetu ponggal is celebrated grandly with the highlight being the cooking of sweetened rice in clay pots.

“The rice is cooked in new pots, and ingredients such as jaggery, groundnuts, and milk is added into pots until it boils over,'' he said.

“It is a good sign to watch it boil over as it means that good luck and prosperity is forthcoming,'' Ganesan said.

This ritual practised for 5,000 years is conducted in the morning during sunrise in the courtyard of homes and temples.

The cooked rice is first offered to Lord Ganesha and to Suria Bhagawan (Sun God) and distributed to members of the household.

Ganesh, chief priest of the 80-year-old Sri Sakthi Vinayagar Temple, said other rituals carried out during the festival were the chanting of prayers and the offering of vegetables and sugar cane to the deities.

“It's a time to give thanks, the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving,'' said Ganesh, adding that it's an important festival for Indians.

For Saroja Guraiya, 47, and daughter Vimala 28, ponggal is a traditional festival and her family had been diligently observing the ritual for years.

“We give thanks and pray for a good year ahead and hope that our prayers will be answered,'' said Saroja.

The festival falls on the last day of the Tamil month of Maargazi, to the third day of the month of Thai in the Tamil calendar or between Jan 12 and Jan 15 in the Gregorian calendar.

*articles appear from 'thestar.com.my'*

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