News & Notes 685:Pongal Celebration at AVAG, 2017
Pongal Celebration at AVAG, 2017
The staff at AVAG celebrated Pongal together with ladies from the AVAL tailoring and crochet unit and Udhayam Federation leaders this year. Pongal is one of the two main ancient traditions of this region, the other being the festival of Mariamma. It is a harvest festival and has now come to be known as the Farmer’s Festival too.
Every aspect of the Pongal festival is deeply rooted in natural cycles of land. We spent the morning making flower kolams and decorations with fresh palm leaves. When I first saw these decorations I was struck by how innovative and eco-friendly they are. Anbu Akka (Director of AVAG) pointed out that it was a norm to use eco-friendly decorations made of farm and forest products before paper and plastic became abundantly available.
The ladies of the office prepared a brick stove and decorated each brick with turmeric and sindoor, turning them into objects of divine significance. Turmeric is a natural antiseptic and also adds a vibrant yellow colour to the stove. Two mud pots were similarly prepared and mounted on the stove and in these began the preparation of Pongal; a sweet or salty preparation of rice mixed with green gram and jaggery.
All the office members, clad in saris and dhotis, sat in a circle around the stove and patiently waited for the Pongal to be made. While we waited, Anbu Akka initiated a discussion on the values celebrated in this festival.
Pongal is celebrated for four days during the winter harvest season. Each day has a particular significance. The first day, called Bogi, is the last day of the month ‘Margazhi’ and on this day we prepare ourselves physically and spiritually to welcome the new month ‘Thai’, which marks the Harvest Festival. We discard old and unused things like old clothes and other items that clutter up a home. This is also a metaphor for cleansing our hearts and minds of old enmities and negative emotions.
The first day of Pongal is a fresh start to the year and the AVAG family took this opportunity to express appreciation for one another and remember the fact that we are a unit that can only progress in togetherness.
The second day, called Perum Pongal, is a celebration of the Sun and the farmers. We thank the Sun for providing the energy that makes life possible on earth and the farmers for their efforts toward growing the food we consume.
The third day, called Maattu-Pongal, is dedicated to the cattle who help us till the land and put in all their muscle strength to make the produce possible. Cows and bulls are worshiped and offered Pongal to eat. The cattle also provide milk for consumption and manure which is a rich fertiliser for the soil. Cattle have a special place in the agrarian economy of rural India because of their contribution to farming practices. Farmers clean their cows and bulls and decorate their horns for the occasion. The bulls are also traditionally raced on this day in the village streets making an exciting and colourful show of the stud-bulls.
The fourth day, called Kari Naal, is to visit family and friends, to get blessings of the elders and to renew relationships.
Pongal is a celebration of the generosity of Mother Nature. It is one of the few festival celebrations we see today that has escaped commercialisation. The traditional way of celebration doesn’t involve pollution from crackers or consumption of unhealthy food. It is, in fact, designed to remind man of his humble roots in the land and reflect both internally and externally on our priorities and everyday practices.
By Ain Contractor, volunteer with Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG)