Pongal In Cambodia – 2014!

Pongal – The Harvest Festival of the Tamils was celebrated on the 14th of January. The four day festivity- Bhogi Pongal, Thai Pongal, Maatu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal has been discussed in https://dosaikal.com/thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival.

This Year Pongal was a simple affair as usual, but just tried showcasing a few traditional things to my daughter.

Concentrated on a basic menu, not indulging into a feast meal (that tuesday being a working day for the father-daughter duo) with –

 

vaazhai ilai saappaadu – the banana leaf platter

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sarkkarai pongal -sweet jaggery rice (dosaikal.thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival) – the special delicacy of the day
maangai sambaar – lentils and vegetables in tamarind, spice gravy (dosaikal.sambar)
avial – mixed vegetables in coconut, yoghurt curry (dosaikal.pongal-in-cambodia)
beans thuvaran – beans dry vegetable curry (dosaikal.beans-poriyal)
maangai pachadi (raw mango and jaggery chutney)
maangai thokku (grated raw mango pickle)
vadai (dehusked black gram fritters)
yoghurt to end the meal
mor milagai for the yoghurt rice (dosaikal.curd-rice-sun-dried-chillies)

and the Cambodian Brown Rice to go with the curries.

 

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We had our meal on the banana leaf (dosaikal.thamizhar-virundhu-feast-of-the-tamils). The different dishes kept on the disposable leaf bowls are only for display. (Special Thanks to friend ‘R’ for letting us cut banana leaves from their trees.)
Dhonnai – disposable eco-friendly bowls

The leaf bowls are called ‘Dhonnai’ – a typical temple meal server. The prasadhams or the food provided to the worshippers in the temples are served in dhonnais – made of different kinds of leaves stitched to form cups (palm leaf, banana leaf, lotus leaf are a few leaves used to make dhonnais). I’d like to highlight here that these are eco-friendly, bio-degradable bowls.

 

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Any festival comes with a package of preparatory processes. Those vary from family to family. A person not familiar with all, but a keen learner that I would like myself to be – I thought of doing some minimal preparations to showcase the festive spirit.

So now to those few things I could make my daughter know that excites us during festivals – in the preparation of the special day –
1. Maavilai Thoranam

 

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Maa is the short form of maangai/mango and ilai means leaf.  Thoranam is a festoon which would be hanged at entrances of homes. During festivals, the thoranam/festoon made with mango leaves would adorn every house.  Any family occasion, thoranams are an important part of home decoration – to tell the clan, community and the village/town that there is an auspicious occasion at their home. Inauspicious occasions call for different thoranams, differently hanged.

I do not know when the earliest reference of thoranam is found in Tamil Literature. But,  ‘Naachiyaar Thirumozhi’ written by Andal, one of the Alvars (Vaishnavite Saints) of the Bhakti movement has these verses (dosaikal.com/maargazhi-maadhathil-ven-pongalven-pongal-in-the-month-of-maargazhi). Andal, the only female Alvar …in the 8th Century AD, mentions the Thoranams/festoons in her poetry!

 

vaaraNam aayiram suuzha valam seidhu
naaraNa nambi nadakinraan enredhir
pooraNa porkudam vaithu puramengum
thoraNam naatta kana kanden thozhi naan

Here, Andal talks about her dream of getting married to Lord Vishnu. She elaborates the festive occasion in her dream –

Her beloved Lord walks gloriously amidst thousands of elephants; For his majestic arrival,  golden pots (again a symbol of auspicious occasion) are arranged everywhere and the whole of Srivilliputhur – her town is completely decorated with thoranams/festoons.

 

Maavilai Thoranams are available in the market in Tamilnadu for Pongal celebrations. With numerous mango trees around, I got a few mango leaves from friend ‘P’ (with mangoes too). Made the thoranam with tooth pick and hanged it in the entrance.
2. Karumbu – Sugarcane

After a long search, we could get the whole sugarcane. Pongal would have been incomplete without the true bite of sugarcane.

 

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3. Kolam – traditional drawings with rice flour.

 

A Kolam is a geometrical line drawing composed of curved loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots. The patterns range between geometric and mathematical line drawings around a matrix of dots to free form art work and closed shapes.

Though not as flamboyant as its other Indian contemporary, Rangoli, which is extremely colourful, a South Indian Kolam is all about symmetry, precision, and complexity. Due to their complexity, trying to figure out how, exactly, these designs were drawn can be a challenge that some viewers find enjoyable. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolam)

 

I am not a good artist – in terms of drawings or paintings. But watching amma and aachi draw kolams everyday in front of the house and special kolams in the poojai arai (worship room), my work was to do some kolams for Pongal and Deepavali. During Maargazhi Maadham, the month of Maargazhi (Dec-Jan), when the women display their drawing skills in front of their houses, mine would be a genuine attempt but not certainly one of the best or wouldn’t even be categorised ‘better’. Still the event wouldn’t stop.

Aachi (grandma) who would draw wonderful elephants and birds when we were small as she was a great artist. With such patience and dedication, her kolams were picture perfect  – no compromise. She had her ‘Kola nottu’ – the note for kolams (now with cousin ‘A’, who is again very good at it – so in right hands), with her precious kolams drawn to perfection.

This year, Kolam was there in my agenda of traditions during Pongal. So, I requested my friend ‘L’ in Chennai who was sending me pictures of her beautiful Kolams, to send me some simple ones with procedures too. With improved technology, the step by step procedure reached in seconds and we drew our own kolams with chalk. My little enthusiast colored them!

 

my version… great artists over there – forgive me please…

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and the original by ‘L’

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my pongal paanai – pongal pot

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Here are a few beautiful kolams done for Maargazhi and Pongal by ‘L’ –

 

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Thanks ‘L’ for sharing these with me and letting me share with all!

One more important thing in Pongal is the turmeric plant tied to the pot in which Pongal would be cooked. Not available here. Hope to find it for my next Pongal.  There is a saying in Tamil – ‘Thai pirandhal vazhi pirakkum’ which means  – with the start of the new month of ‘Thai’ – mid January to mid February (after maargazhi), good things would fall in place.

 

Wish everyone a happy, healthy and success filled Year 2014!

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