Celebrating Pongal

Our home is usually bathed in sunlight in the afternoons, from 2 pm to around 6 pm. However, come January and we receive sunlight for longer, till about 7 pm in the evening. From January, the sun’s light is like molten gold, lighting up our home and raising our spirits.

Barely two weeks after we ring in the new year, it is time to celebrate the festival of ‘Pongal’. This festival is quite significant for many reasons.  The festival is also known by the name of Makar Sankranti, which signifies the day each year, on which the sun enters the zodiac of Capricorn, and transitions from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere.

This is also the harvest festival in India, when farmers harvest rice and sugarcane, and people express their gratitude to the Sun, to farmers  and to cattle, who are all very important members in the value chain that brings food to every home.

In the Tamil language, the word Pongal, in addition to being the name of the festival, also refers to the name of a South Indian delicacy (both salt and sweet), and also refers to the act of milk ‘bubbling over’.

At home, just like we do every year, I mount two bronze pots on the gas stove; pots that were given to me by my mother, when I got married.

I tie baby turmeric and ginger plants around the neck of each pot. I decorate the pots with rice flour.

I decorate my foyer with a traditional rice kolam, making drawings of pots, sugarcane and the rangoli.

I get started with the cooking of both the sweet and salt varieties of Pongal. The smell of jaggery, ghee and milk waft around the kitchen.

When the milk starts boiling over, I call my husband and kids. We all shout, “Pongalo Pongal”. We wish each other and all our friends prosperity and happiness.

We sit down to a yummy breakfast, and wash it down with filter coffee. 
My children participate with gusto. Hopefully, they will remember the aroma of pongal and retain these memories, and carry forward our age-old traditions with their children.

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