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Tamils in Aotearoa Prepare for the Harvest Festival Celebrations

Malini Yugendran

Malini Yugendran

Auckland, 9 January 2023

Pongal is Thanksgiving Day for Tamilians (Photo: South Tourism India)

Pongal is a popular festival in Tamil Nadu, India, which is celebrated to mark the beginning of the harvest season. Pongal is also celebrated by people of Tamil origin living in many parts of the world, including Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand. Pongal is a time for people to come together and give thanks for the blessings of the past year. The festival is marked by the preparation of traditional foods, such as Pongal (sweet rice dish), Vadai (savoury snack), and Payasam (sweet pudding).

This year, Pongal will be marked widely by Tamil organisations throughout Aotearoa.

Auckland

The Auckland Tamil Association’s Pongal Thiruvizha 2023 will be held on Saturday, 21 January 2023, from 10 am to 4 pm, at Mt Eden War Memorial, Auckland, with the cooking of Pongal, Kolam contests (creative designs done on the floor using rice flour), Pongal Pattimandram (debate), cultural events, games, and fun activities.

The New Zealand Tamil Society will celebrate Pongal Vizha on 22 January 2023 at 10 am at the Fickling Convention Centre in Mount Albert The event will include cultural performances and activities. The highlight of the event is their on-site, freshly made lunch that they provide for attendees. The lunch menu includes Pongal and Vadai.

Christchurch

The Canterbury Indian Tamil Association has scheduled its first event for the year 2023 to commemorate Pongal on 18 February 2023, at 4 pm at Templeton Community Centre in Christchurch. It will be an exciting event for both children and adults, featuring traditional Tamil activities such as kolam competition, tug of war, and traditional Pongal making.

Taranaki

The Taranaki Tamil Association has set up an exhibit in New Plymouth’s Puke Ariki library on Friday, January 6, 2023, to explain the Festival. The exhibit includes posters that describe many aspects of Tamil culture, as well as artefacts such as the painted earthen pot. The library exhibition will be on display till 15 January 2023.

On the 15th of January, at 11 am, the Association will celebrate Pongal in Merrilands School Hall. Their event is a zero-waste celebration with recycled products used. Members and participants will prepare Pongal and other dishes and serve a Bandhi Saapadu (meal) served on banana leaves. There will also be a women’s Kummi (folk) Dance, children’s Silambattam (martial arts), Puliattam (Tiger Dance), the traditional Kabaddi and tug of war.

Waikato

The Tamil Society Waikato is celebrating Pongal and Sankranti, opening its event to the wider communities on 29 January 2023 at Hamilton Gardens, Pavilion Hall, Hungerford Crescent. The Tamil Society Waikato’s celebration includes a live cooking demo of South Indian dishes and cultural performances. The event is free, and food can be purchased from ethnic food booths.

Earthen pots are used to prepare Pongal (Photo: The Times of India)

About Pongal

Pongal is a four-day harvest festival. Common activities during Pongal include decorating homes with kolams (decorative designs made with rice flour) and participating in cultural and sporting events. The first day of Pongal is the Bhogi ceremony, which begins on January 14 this year. Thorough spring cleaning and disposal of old items are conducted as part of the ritual, symbolising a new beginning. Oil lamps are lit, new clothes are put on, and Kolam (designs) in rice flour is created on the entrance of homes. Lord Indra, the Ruler of clouds and rain, is worshipped.

Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the Sun god. The festival officially begins on this day. Pongal means ‘to overflow,’ thus a pot of rice must boil over on this day to symbolise prosperity and abundance. A turmeric and ginger plant is tied to an earthen pot in which Pongal is prepared. The rice is cooked with sugar and milk.

Mattu Pongal is the Pongal set aside to honour cattle for the hard labour they provide for farmers. Mattu Pongal is celebrated on the third day of the festival. Cattle are bathed and adorned with colourful garlands, beads, and bells around the neck before being served Pongal and other foods as a thank you. On this day, Jallikattu (bull taming) is also performed. Jallikattu, also known as Eru Thazhuvuthal. It is an activity where bulls are released in a crowd of male participants who attempt to stop them by grasping the hump for as long as possible. In other instances, participants must ride long enough to remove flags, money and gold from the bull’s horn.

Kaanum Pongal

The last day, known as Kaanum Pongal, is mostly about community and bonding. Families and friends visit each other, and younger members seek the blessing of the elders, Most families typically gather for a meal together.

Traditional folk dances such as the Mayilattam (peacock dance), Kolattam (stick dance), and poi Kaal Kuthirai Attam are performed in community events throughout the festival.

Rituals at home and their significance.

About Kolam

A kolam is a design made at the entrance of a house with rice flour. Kolams are an important component of Tamil Nadu’s customs and traditions. Apart from the belief that it brings good luck and prosperity, there is some scientific reasoning behind the use of kolams. Kolams are made with geometric patterns and symmetry, which are known to relax the mind and provide a sense of balance and harmony. Rice flour is a natural conductor of energy, and rice flour patterns are said to balance geomagnetic fields and generate a good energy flow in the atmosphere.

Kolam emphasises the importance of coexistence with nature. Rice flour serves as nourishment for small insects and serves as a reminder to us that the world belongs to not just humans but all living things.

Turmeric plant tied to the Pongal Pot (Photo: Tamil Pongal Web)

Pongal Pot

Pongal pots are made of clay. The usage of earthen pots is backed by scientific reasoning as well. Because clay pots are porous, they enable steam to escape when cooking. This prevents the food from becoming mushy and ensures that it cooks evenly. Clay pots are also renowned for retaining heat for a longer amount of time, which means that the food stays warm for a longer period after it has been removed from the stove. Clay pots are also said to provide a distinct flavour to food by releasing elements such as iron and magnesium into the meal throughout the cooking process. Clay pots are also eco-friendly because they are composed of natural materials.

When preparing Pongal, it is customary to attach ginger and turmeric plants to the pot. Turmeric is considered auspicious and has antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger has long been used as both a spice and a medicinal herb. Its constituents contain antibacterial and antifungal properties, as well as therapeutic properties.

Sugarcane

Sugar cane is a must at Pongal celebrations. It is a symbol of prosperity and well-being. Sugarcane contains a number of medicinal properties. On a spiritual note, it is seen in the hands of Goddess Lalitha Tripura Sundari, who holds a goad, a noose, an arrow of flowers, a sugarcane and a bow, which represent the mind that controls the five senses and five weaknesses: Kama (lust), Krodha  (Anger) Lobh (greed), Moha  (attachment), Ahankara (pride) Matsarya (envy).

Sugarcane, which is strong and straight, represents a stern and balanced intellect that must rule over the five senses. The rising sugar cane bends at the top and serves as a reminder that no matter what one has accomplished, he must remain humble.

Pongal is a thanksgiving festival that honours the Sun, Nature, and Cattle that contribute to a bountiful harvest. It is celebrated as Makara Sankranti or Sankranti in Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur and Telangana. This social and cultural event brings communities together in instils hope and positivity.

Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Auckland.

 

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