It is that time of year again when we get ready to celebrate Makara Sankranti or Thai Pongal, the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu. One of the most important festivals in South India, this four-day festival is something we look forward to with gusto, mainly because it means one of the family’s favorite dishes will be cooked, and a lot of decluttering takes place, in line with tradition. It also marks the beginning of a new month when auspicious events are scheduled.
We give thanks to the Sun God and Nature for their abundant blessings. Farmers, especially show their gratitude by cooking the first harvest of rice and watching it boil over (pongal means boiling over), signifying prosperity and abundance.
I fondly remember the first time my son Vidur actively participated in celebrating Pongal. He had just turned 6 and was in the first grade. Enthusiastic to “help” he was excited about having three days off from school. As we explained why we celebrate the festival, we involved him in the various activities.
During the week leading up to the festival, we started spring-cleaning. We packed the things we did not need in bags. On day 1 of the festival, called Bhogi, instead of the traditional bonfire where unwanted things are burnt, we opted to donate our bags to the needy. When we went out for our walk, we made Vidur hand them over to street people.
That year, my Mom insisted that we shouldn’t just get our kitchen ready for prosperity and abundance, but also focus on good health and #SayNoToFoodPoisoning
The logic is – we take care to buy quality ingredients for cooking. We make sure every utensil we use is thoroughly washed. We use water purifiers for safe drinking water. But a clean kitchen doesn’t mean a healthy kitchen!
As my Mom pointed out, no matter how clean our kitchens, there’s a pretty good likelihood of sneaky cockroaches hiding in the nooks and corners, out of sight. These nocturnal creatures quietly do their dirty work at night, contaminating the utensils and any food accidentally left open. They flavour it with disease causing bacteria and germs that they bring from the drains before entering the kitchen. To make sure our kitchen shows them the No Entry sign, we use a cockroach spray like Godrej LAL HIT to eliminate them. Godrej LAL HIT has a convenient deep reach nozzle that can kill these critters no matter where they’re hiding.
So we spent an entire afternoon disinfecting and cleaning the kitchen to keep it safe from those disease causing cockroaches.
Later we rearranged the kitchen with the things we wanted to keep. Yes, Vidur helped enthusiastically. Nothing beats working with children willing to help!
In the evening, we went out to the market to buy the turmeric leaves, coconuts, flowers and fruits, and other things we needed for the festival.
The next morning, as Mom and I got busy in the kitchen, Vidur and Sury got ready in time for the four of us to say “Pongalo-Pongal”. It was a hilarious moment, as we no longer use the traditional brass utensil. Instead, we use our pressure cooker – when it whistles, we consider it THE moment!
An hour later, we were ready to offer the sweet rice at the altar and pray together. Of course, no festival is complete at our place without the yummy vadas and Vidur got impatient waiting. So as soon as everything was ready, we arranged a tray with smaller containers so he could proudly carry it around. As was customary, we distributed the chakra pongal to our neighbors.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and watching all the special programs on TV.
While winding up at night, we kept aside a little of everything we had cooked for the next morning’s ritual with Vidur asking questions nonstop.
The next morning was “Kanu” or maattupongal when cows are decorated and fed. In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated with an event called Jallikattu – taming of the bull.
Our celebrations at home concluded after an interesting ritual. With Vidur supervising, we took off to our terrace where we arranged the leftover food on turmeric leaves along with sugar cane pieces, chanting “kaakapidi, kanupidi – kaakakumkuruvikkumkalyanam” This implies a wedding between crows and sparrows and just as the birds live harmoniously, we pray for family unity.
This year, as I celebrate Pongal today, I will keep it low key and wallow in the memories of Pongals gone. I will miss my son who’s away at college. I will remember the laughter and fun as I work alone in my kitchen, and imagine that my Mom is smiling down at me in approval, as she has been doing for five years now.
Happy Pongal, Happy Makar Sankranti to you! May your life be filled with abundance and prosperity!