Fresh start, grateful hearts: devotees reflect on Pongal’s significance

Fresh start, grateful hearts: devotees reflect on Pongal’s significance

Malaysian Hindus usher in auspicious month with four-day celebration

The term ‘Pongal’ in Tamil means ‘to boil’, referring to the practice of letting milk boil over in a clay pot to symbolise a bountiful and happy future.

KUALA LUMPUR – The agricultural roots behind the Pongal festival, which celebrates the harvest season and gives thanks for nature’s bounty, may be hard for modern-day city dwellers to relate to.

Yet, many still enjoy its wider cultural significance today; it is a time when Hindus give thanks for their blessings and prepare for fresh starts.

Malaysian Hindus celebrate the four-day festival, which began yesterday, marking the beginning of an auspicious month known as Thai. Thai lasts from mid-January to mid-February.

The term “Pongal” in Tamil means “to boil”, referring to the practice of letting milk boil over in a clay pot to symbolise a bountiful and happy future.

Each day of Pongal is defined by different festivities, and each of the four days has different names. The first day is known as Bhogi; the second is Thai Pongal; the third is Maattu Pongal; and the fourth is Kaanum Pongal.

A housewife, who wanted to be known as Chandrakala, 55, told The Vibes that preparing the traditional Pongal dish called “sakkarai pongal” is the most important part of the festival.

“It means ‘sweet Pongal’. It is made of rice mixed with milk, sugar, cashew nuts, raisins, dhal, and ghee in a clay pot and prepared in the sunlight, usually on a courtyard or porch, to honour the sun god,” said the Melaka native.

Indra, the god of rain, is also honoured during Pongal for his role in watering the earth and helping the harvest, she added.

On Bhogi, the first day, old and useless household items are burnt as part of a ritual to “get rid of all negativity in our lives and begin a fresh life”, Chandrakala said.

The second day, Thai Pongal, is also called Surya Pongal. On Surya Pongal, devotees worship the sun god.

“We decorate our home with colourful rice flour kolam and cook the traditional sakkarai pongal dish in a clay pot with family members.

“The third day of Maattu Pongal is dedicated to worshipping cows. The cow is revered because it provides nourishment in the form of milk and oxen plough fields.

“The fourth day of Kaanum Pongal means ‘to see’ or to visit, and is for family members and friends to spend time together,” Chandrakala said.

Nantha Kumar, 52, who is the project adviser for a food donation programme called Dharma Dhaanam, said Pongal as the first festival of the year, is always special to him.

It marks the harvest season…while we city dwellers cannot really relate to this, there is cultural significance where we offer our thanks for all the blessings that we have received and hope to pass them on,” said Nantha.

Preparations for the four-day festival excite him, and he says he executes them with military precision.

“The eve of Pongal is when you feel the heat, as you search for the nicest sugar cane to decorate the doorway and then check off all the items on your checklist to avoid running errands again,” he quipped.

He also organises the Dharma Dhaanam community project in the days following Pongal and in the run-up to Thaipusam, which will fall on February 5 this year.

“Under our Dharma Dhaanam project, we serve free vegetarian nasi lemak to all at our site near KTM Batu Caves.”

Nantha said after a two-year hiatus from festivities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he hopes the community project would be able to serve more people this year.

Kuala Lumpur resident Subitra Ananthan, 29, meanwhile, reflected on how much more “work” she had to do for Pongal now as an adult.

“As a child, there were not many expectations of you. Now, as an adult, there are more expectations that you help out before and during the festival,” she grinned, adding that she still looks forward to it and hopes for lots of boiled milk to “boil over the clay pot”, as this will symbolise more prosperity.

Revathi Linggam, 29, also from Kuala Lumpur, is bracing for a quieter and lonelier Pongal this year.

“There are many differences between today’s Pongal and my childhood Pongal because I’m celebrating it all by myself and missing the joy that I had when I celebrated it with my parents.

“This year, I wish for everyone to be happy, and that no one should be in poverty. May this festival bring happiness and joy to everyone.”

source – The Vibes

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