January 13, 2015

Thai Pongal: Second Day of Tamil Harvest Festival in January

The second day of Pongal falls on the first day of the Tamil calendar, Thai 1 or typically January 14 in the Western calendar.  Thai Pongal is also known as Surya Pongal because Surya, the sun God is worshiped on this day. Women will wake early on this day to create an elaborate kolum on the ground in front of their doorway or home. Kolums are created with colored rice flour placed on the ground carefully by using one's hand. The picture shown to the right shows the beginnings of this. The women in the picture took several hours to finish that kolum. Everyone will wear their new dresses and use the new utensils or household items which replace the ones discarded the previous day. On this day the new rice is collected and cooked in pots with milk until it overflows. The pot used to cook Pongal is not the one used for cooking ordinary meals, but according to Viji Varadarajan, it is, 
"...a new earthenware pot called Pongapanai, on an open fire. The neck of the pongapanni is decorated with the fresh green turmeric and root ginger with is tender green leaves. The green leaves signify prosperity, the turmeric signifies auspiciousness, and the ginger is representative of the spice in life. (source, page 68)" 

When the rice boiled in milk begins to overflow, it is a joyous occasion, and the children and adults as well will shout out 'Pongal-o Pongal!' Children will dance and make music to the tune of these words. "Pongal-o pongal" loosely translates into English as 'it's boiling over.' More than the translation, the feeling behind these words is that the universe, god and mother earth offer us a rich abundnace and harvest, so much so that it overflows our requirements and our lives will be full of abundance in many ways for the years to come! The rice is cooked and prepared as a dish called Pongal. There are two kinds of Pongal, savory (venpongal) and sweet (chakrai). This Pongal variety is called venpongal, ven meaning white. Another variety is also prepared with dhal and jaggery (sweet), called chakraipongal, chakrai meaning sweet. To accompany the venpongal, people eat brinjal (eggplant) sambar (stew), vadai, idli, and spicy accompaniments. This is one of my favorite meals! 

Read about the first day of Pongal celebrations, Bhogi Pongal
On to day three, Maatu Pongal

Jennifer Kumar, author of this blog, is the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys. Authentic Journeys provides cross-cultural business coaching to Indians and Americans to promote improved cross-cultural business exchanges. Contact Jennifer here. 


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