Happy Pongal, everyone! May your pot ever run over with good food, health and happiness! For those of my readers who don’t know what Pongal is – it’s the Tamil version of the universal harvest festival. On this day, almost always on the 14th of January, we cook the fresh produce of rice and moong dal with milk and jaggery. It’s all boiled together with milk – allowed to boil over to signify prosperity and plenty. The large brass Pongal panai or pot is decorated with sugarcane and sugarcane leaves, turmeric and turmeric leaves, and looks beautiful! This year, I’ve been ill and couldn’t go out and buy all this stuff, so my pot had to do without its decorations. But next year I promise you photos of my pot brimming over. There are flowers and kolams everywhere, and cows are given a bath and decorated with flowers and kumkum. I used to love this part at as a child at my grandparent’s house – leading the cows to the well, drawing water for their bath, and helping to bathe them, and how skittish they would be, especially the calves, afterwards. Of all the festivals, this is my favourite, but sadly we can’t be at the farm to celebrate the harvest this year. Not that there is much harvest to celebrate, but we have so much else to be grateful for.
Speaking of happiness and festivities, we’ve had two weddings in the family in the last two months. (Four since 2012. The younger generation is getting all hitched! My daughters, take the hint!) The first, in December, was a traditional old-style TamBrahm wedding, oonjal and Kasi yatrai and all.
The second, my nephew’s wedding last week, that we are still recovering from, brought in elements of the nature-loving, tribal-warrior Kodava clan – the bride being a Kodava. Though traditional to them, it was all new to our side of the family. We were unable to contain our excitement when our bridegroom’s brave brother fearlessly beheaded six banana trees, each with a single stroke of his sword, proving that the groom was worthy of the bride’s hand.
The family honour having been upheld, we then proceeded into the TamBrahm ceremony, finishing the rituals with one more Kodava tradition, the Ganga pooja. Here the bride brings River Ganga to her husband’s house in a pot on her head, not spilling a drop, while all kinds of obstacles are placed in her way, including wild dancers barring her path. It was great fun. But it had me wondering, do the young people do all this because they believe in these rituals? After all we no longer live in villages or forests; in fact these kids are super urban, ‘hanging out at the mall’ types, and none of this has any relevance to their daily lives. Or is it the play-acting with costumes that they enjoy? Or both? Or something else? I can’t figure it out, the gusto with which they embrace these ceremonies. (I did hear of a recent wedding, though, which consisted of the bride and groom exchanging garlands, rings and books – ah! sanity still exists!) I adore the delicious, colourful kalyana sapadu, comprising dozens of dishes, in small, appetizing helpings, served on plantain leaves. And I will leap around with the best when the occasion demands it, and enjoy it too. But I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be married with so many rituals. Thank goodness all that is firmly behind me!