Well, this post has started with an alliteration.
From the 14th to the 16th January of this year, India has been celebrating the Harvest Festival. Called Pongal in Tamil Nadu to mean “brimming with the goodness” to Makara Sankaranthi in many other parts of India, it is an important festival to mark.
India is predominantly agricultural – but this festival is not just for farmers – although Farmer Falgu seems to be having a whale of a time being invited to homes across India.
In TamilNadu where I grew up, the festival has four days with special significance to each day.
The 14th – Bhogi which is the first day of Pongal celebrations is actually the day to mark the end of the previous month. The last day of the OLD before we welcome the NEW. Bhogi prepares the homes and minds of people to welcome the new. Houses are freshly painted, perhaps a wedding is being planned soon and even new pots are bought for the celebration of the festival itself.
In the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, kids get showered with money – well it is a mix of ‘regi-pallu’, flower petals, pieces of sugarcane, coins and jaggery – the quick-witted ones would pick up the coins quickly!
Bhogi is loud with banging of drums and smoky with bonfires across the villages and neighbourhoods. Bhogi is fun as you rifle through old stuff, end up being distracted with memories and then having to rush to finish the cleaning.
15th Jan 2015 (for this year, as this is based on the Lunar calendar) is the first day of the new month and also the most auspicious month of the year. It is the day of the Pongal celebration.
Wedding halls are filled to capacity with one wedding party leaving as the next one arrives. It marks the harvest, the bounty, without forgetting to give thanks. The entire festival is focussed on giving thanks, first to the Sun and then to Mother Earth and to everything and everyone who helped harvest the bounty. It is a day of joy, music, laughter, good food and good old family time.
16th January is Mattu Pongal where I come from – the day we celebrate the bulls and cows. The bulls are washed, their horns painted, the carts and the ploughs painted. And in the southern most parts of Tamil Nadu, it is also the day of the bull-fight. Many lives are lost every year – but the challenge of overpowering a bull never seems to lose its charm to the young men wanting to get the attention of pretty girls in the village. Last year when I was researching stories about sports, I came across a story and retold it here – about Jallikattu – the bullfight. (Not for kids, though).
17th January is Kaanum Pongal – the day of sightseeing, visiting family and friends who do not live near you. Most fair grounds, beaches and cinema are filled with people. It is the day when you relax and have fun outside home, spend your money, see the sights, eat fairground treats and come back home tired and smiling.
So many things are symbolic about this festival – the pumpkin flowers that adorn the drawings made with rice flour outside each house, the tall stems of sugarcane stacked in the shops, and tied to the pillars in houses, mango leaves as buntings in most doorways, new pots that line up the market and of course Pongal – the rice-pudding made with jaggery and ghee (clarified butter) with crunchy cashewnuts and juicy raisins.
One last thing though – Pongal celebrations in cinema-mad India (cricket is only after that) is not complete with a new movie release. And all our movies are muscials. Here is a song you might like. I couldn’t find one with sub-titles. But the visuals will give you an idea about what we do during the festival.
And this year has been extra special with Farmer Falgu in my life. Farmer Falgu has been to Bangalore and to Delhi to celebrate the festival with people who love him.
Perhaps next year, I could celebrate in London with all Falgu friends.
Here are some great moments of Falgu enjoying the festival. My sincere thanks to Rituparna Ghosh and CuddlesAndReads