Thursday, January 14th: This is the first day of Pongal, a harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu.*. There are several days to the festival and each day has a different aspect. The first day, the 14th, is a ritual cleansing of home and possessions. We saw a number of women scrubbing the entrances to their homes. The second day, is marked by cooking rice in a big pot that is wrapped round with turmeric rhizomes that are still attached to their greens and letting the pot boil over. The boiling over signifies plenty and thanksgiving. And probably a big fat mess for the lady of the house to clean up or at least it is whenever I let my rice boil over on the stove!!
The events of the first two days take place within the home and you don’t see much evidence of them out on the streets. You do see, however, a bustling business of selling and buying of turmeric, sugar cane, and dyed rice powder, all of which are used during the festival. The rice powders are used to create beautiful designs (kolam) on the ground outside the doors of homes.
Our morning began with a trip to the rock cut cave temple built around a sculpture of Murugan (son of Shiva and brother of Ganesh**) that was carved out of the rock of the mountain. We then headed into the Meenakshi temple for a look see. Lots of stalls selling things that would be used to make offerings at the various shrines located throughout the temple complex. Color everywhere. A small procession complete with band and processional diety figure. We wore our Indian clothes even though the court ruling requiring Indian dress has been suspended pending appeal. We looked marvelous.
*Actually, harvest festivals are celebrated about this same time in about half of the states of India but they are known by different names and are celebrated in different ways.
**And, speaking of Ganesh, if I had to pick a Hindu deity as a favorite, it would have to be Ganesh. First of all, he’s an elephant; well, he has an elephant’s head. Secondly, he rides a mouse and that is a delightful visual. Thirdly, and most important for inclusion in my pantheon of gods, he is always shown with a big belly because he loves sweets and cannot resist them. Ganesh is my kind of guy.