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Tribute to Surya Bhagavan on Thai Pongal day

After a period of particularly dark, gloomy and rainy weather in November and December the earth begins to smile in January, making one break into poetic rapture.

'thai magalin pudukkolam pankajam pol malarkaiyile/Adhavani namaskariththu kaikoopi pongiduwam (When the month of Thai dawns and blooms out like the lotus we raise our hands in worship to the Sun and prepare the Pongal)

The holy day of Thai Pongal or Thaith Thirunaal or Thaith Thingal, as it is variously called, marks the beginning of the harvest season. As Sivanandini Duraiswamy reveals in Remembering Hindu Traditions, Pongal or sweetened milk rice is cooked on this day with the newly harvested grain in a new clay pot placed on the newly prepared hearth in the inner courtyard of the house.

The hearth is encircled with a kolam, the pot decorated with the strands of grass, ginger and saffron leaves, all entwined into a string and tied round the neck of the pot with mango leaves hanging from this string, symbolizing prosperity.

The pot, filled with milk is placed on the hearth by the head of the household assisted by his wife. It is said that the side on which the milk spills will reflect what the new year will hold for the family for example if the milk spills over the east side, the year will be lucky.

When the milk boils the head of the house takes a handful of rice grains, circles the pot three times and drops the grain into the boiling milk amidst the din of fire crackers. The wife then completes the cooking and the family offers the Pongal together with the fruits, flowers, sugar cane etc, to the Sun, singing 'Siva Suryaaya Siva Suryaaya Nama OM'.

Though not adhering strictly to these ancient traditions, (she will be making Pongal on the gas-cooker) Shantha, a Marketing Executive in a private firm in Peliyagoda says she and her family will celebrate this day by cleaning the house, making the traditional sweets like vadei and murukku, dressing in new clothes and visiting the kovil.

The day will be spent with friends and relatives and all meals will be vegetarian.

Pawa Lechchami, a labourer living in Kotahena whose husband too is a daily paid worker says she will make pongal in the morning, have a bath and go to the kovil nearby with her two daughters, Bawani and Darshana. She does not know if her twenty-year old son or her husband will join them. "You can never predict them'.

Pix: Renuka Alwis

Will her friends drop in, and will she go visiting? 'No' says Lechchami, "People like us don't have friends' (Apilata yaaluwo koheda?) Will she be wearing new clothes? 'No' she shakes her head again.

'Where do we have the money to buy new clothes? Will she be making a special lunch? 'Yes. I will be making three or four curries for lunch". She has not decided on the menu yet but says the meal will be vegetarian because it is not right to eat meat on pongal day.

In doing so, Lechchami, though not completely aware of what she is observing shows her gratitude to Mother Nature, thus grasping the true meaning of Thai Pongal.

Finally, to quote Sivandini Duraiswamy "Man lives in the hope of achieving something more and Pongal not only connotes this but also conveys to humanity the message of peace, unity and brotherhood, for a better tomorrow". Who can deny the saying "Thai piranthaal vali pirakkum" (when the month of Thai dawns, times will be propitious)

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Sri Lanka
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