Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Happy Pongal!

Pongal is a major holiday in Tamil Nadu, the South Indian state where I am visiting.  It's kind of a combination of our Thanksgiving, our winter solstice and New Year.  It is the end of the harvest season, so people celebrate the harvest.  It is also is the beginning of Uttarayanathe six months of northward movement of the sun.  These six months are considered an auspicious time - out with the old, in with the new!

This kolam at the ashram was done in celebration of Lakshmi the cow, whose statue was right behind here.

Pongal is on January 14, but there are actually four days of festival.  The day before Pongal is called Bogi, and is the day when old things are thrown away.  In fact, people burn their old clothes, although this practice is being discouraged these days.  On Pongal itself, rice is boiled in milk in new clay pots until it boils over.  Special foods are prepared, new clothes are worn, people go to the temple for special rituals, and families and friends gather to celebrate.  Houses are decorated with beautiful kolams, which are made with brightly colored rice flour, which we saw being sold along the road.  Even the poorest hut has a bright new kolam for Pongal.

The day after Pongal is dedicated to the cows and buffalo which are used to plow the land, pull the bullock carts, and who provide the milk.  The cows horns are painted and decorated with bells.  The final day is a day of celebrating the sun and is traditionally a day for picnics.

We celebrated Pongal in the Ramana Ashram (more on that in a separate blog) and even went to the Arunachala temple, at the foot of the sacred mountain by the same name.  The crowds were overwhelming, and we were the only white people there.  There were a lot of families, and they were all dressed in new, festive clothes.  Everyone was friendly, and one little girl even asked to have her picture taken with us!  Too bad we didn't think to ask her dad to take one for us as well.

I have been away from internet access for several days, and am having a hard time getting my pictures  from my phone onto my iPad.  So I will include a few pictures now, and will do another blog with more sometime in the future.


Our last morning in Pondicherry, we walked out the hotel at 6:30 AM to find the street along the oceanfront full of festivities and people.  An early start to Pongal, which included a kolam competition.

All along both sides of the street, women were busy drawing kolam!

Although most were done with rice flower, some were made using something that had more texture to it.

Women of all ages, some alone and some in groups, were busy producing beautiful artwork on the sidewalk!  This picture of Ganesh is quite beautiful.

Some were floral designs, others were gods, and still others like this one were creatures.

The peacock is the national bird of India.  We saw them all over the Ramana ashram.

This woman was using flower petals in her design.  We weren't able to see who won the contest because we had an appointment at Auroville we had to keep.

What a beautiful Pongal dress!

And even some of the boys had colorful clothes, although for the most part they were more likely to be dressed in new western style attire.

She provides milk for the Ramana ashram, and also got pretty for Pongal!

I'm not sure the fresh blue paint on his horns and yoke lightened the load any for this bullock.  It isn't uncommon to see bullock carts today, sharing the road with trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles and bicycles.


  1. This art is incredible. Do children grow up learning how to draw / is this skill an integral part of culture or is this just happen to be a gathering of artists for the contest? I am so curious to know more about the patterns/mandalas/symbols used and how they are learned, what the represent etc. Fascinating! Hope you have a chance to learn/make some art yourself!

    1. Indrani does the kolams here at Ravi and Sheela's. Indrani is the person who basically runs the household, cooking, shopping, laundry. She also has a helper. It is not unusual for people to have this kind of help here. As Sheela once told me, so many people need work here that if one can afford to hire someone, they really should do it.

      Anyway, Indrani is quite an amazing woman. More about that later. I asked her about the kolams, and she said she grew up doing it with her mother. I asked her if she'd teach me, and she said she would. She said there are also books one can study. These are done fresh EVERY MORNING! Usually they are all in white and very simple. For special occasions, they are bigger and more colorful.