Tag Archives: harvest festival

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

This year’s Pongal – the Harvest Festival of the Tamils, was a special one for me. After posting my experience of Pongal in Cambodia , way back in 2014, now, I am delighted to post my experience of Pongal in Abu Dhabi, in 2020. Pongal was celebrated on 15th January.

Abu Dhabi, as many of us know, is a place very close to a South Indian’s heart. I recall a few lines I already wrote in one my previous posts – Navaratri in Abu Dhabi

Living in Abu Dhabi, one doesn’t feel out of homeland, with millions of Indians, especially South Indians quite huge in number. But, it is certainly an amazing place where festivals are celebrated in their best traditional way, with undoubted authenticity.

The same feeling of being at home, was felt during Pongal too. Firstly, there was a Pongal celebration by local Tamil Community, at Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi on the 10th of January, 2020. That gave a great start to the essence of our own Harvest Festival. There are a few more to join, in the coming days as well.

Apart from the events, that give a welcome feeling of being part of one’s own society, one of the most essential things to celebrate a traditional festival, is the availability of ingredients – exclusive to one’s native soil.

So, first step – I listed down the necessary things I needed to buy, for an authentic, traditional celebration – almost close to home, but away from home.

My list –

  1. Pongal Paanai – a new Mud Pot to make Pongal – The sweet rice pudding
  2. Manjal Kothu – Fresh Turmeric with the root and leaves, to tie around the pot
  3. Inji Kothu – Fresh Ginger with root and leaves
  4. Karumbu – Sugarcane
  5. Panakizhangu – Palmyra Sprout
  6. Maavilai – Fresh Mango leaves to make Thoranam or decoration in the house entrance
  7. Fresh traditional vegetables of Tamilnadu
  8. Banana Leaf
  9. Coconut
  10. Banana
  11. Rice
  12. Jaggery

Now, Rice, Jaggery, Banana, Coconut and vegetables are abundantly available in Abu Dhabi. Hence, the concern of getting those didn’t pop up at all.

My longing to make Pongal, in a new mud pot was fulfilled by Dar Al Meena Food Stuff Trading, located in Sharjah, which delivers organic produces from Tamilnadu, every week, on different days to different parts of the UAE. Click here to know more about the shop.

They deliver required native produces to Abu Dhabi every Sunday. So, my anxiety to get these trademark Pongal Agro products, was sorted out very quickly.

This post is not going to be one, with a recipe. But this one is, to share my happiness and fulfilment that resulted in this year’s Pongal celebration. Happiness, not because I could get those quintessential things – but specially and more specifically because, I could show my daughter, at least a glimpse of Pongal – the festival, so earthy, and so close to our roots.

Pongal is so special to the Tamils because, it is an ancient, non-religious, traditional festival, that is very strongly connected to the earthy aroma of our native soil. It is the Harvest Festival as well as a Thanksgiving Festival. Though, it is a festival in which the farmer is thanking his own eco system of nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, for providing the strength to achieve best yields. In turn, it is our duty to thank the Farmer, who produces the grains and vegetables we consume daily. Then, isn’t it very important to make our next generation value the sheer Hardwork of those humble souls, without whom, our filled plates with nutritious food and satisfied palates after each meal wouldn’t be achievable?

These are the things I procured from the shop, including my first priced possession of the new year – my Pongal Paanai/Mud Pot.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

The quintessential things –

mud pot, coconut shell ladle, the pirumanai to place the pot, fresh turmeric with root and leaves, fresh ginger with root and leaves.

my priced possessions – mud pot and coconut shell ladle

Seasoning the Man Chatti/Mud Pot

After soaking the mud pot in water overnight, I washed it well with gram flour using coconut scrub. The next step, in the process of seasoning the mudpot, I fried grated coconut and nei/clarified butter. This aids in removing any mud, impurities and also makes the pot stronger. Coconut and nei/clarified butter, would provide a nice aroma to the mud pot, while making sweet dishes in future. This is because, the clay would absorb the flavour and aroma of the things fried or cooked first, for the rest of its life span. I discarded the fried coconut. Then, washed the pot with the coconut scrub and gram flour. Man chatti/mud pot is ready to make Sarkkarai Pongal, in fact every year.

Rest of the products – Karumbu/Sugarcane

Panang kizhangu/Palmyra Sprouts

Maavilai/Fresh mango leaves and Maavilai thoranam

the vegetables and different kinds of rice – mappillai samba, hand pound white, hand pound brown

Making Sarkkarai Pongal

I made Pongal, with 3 cups rice and approximately 4 to 4 1/2 cups jaggery. Too much for a nuclear family. But, the joy of sharing with friends during such festivals is the true spirit of celebration.

To start, I tied the fresh turmeric root with leaves to the neck of the manchatti. Placed the man chatti with water to boil, on the stove. A tip here – Add sufficient water for rice to cook… this is not pressure cooker cooking.. so no water measurements. Add water in between, if water is insufficient to cook rice.

Sufficient water and washed rice immersed in it.

Meantime, I kept the jaggery with water on stove. Once water boils and jaggery is completely dissolved, switch off stove. We shall strain later, directly into the pot.

Checked the rice off and on, until it had become soft

After a few minutes, the rice had become thicker, with most of the water absorbed while cooking;

At this stage, I strained the jaggery liquid into the pot

I added freshly ground cardamom into the rice and jaggery pongee

It was time to mix well and check whether everything was going right.

I used this beautiful coconut shell ladle, to mash the rice well. This dual purpose ladle, also serves as a masher.

I fried cashew nuts in clarified butter/nei and added to the almost done sarkkarai pongal

Sarkkarai Pongal was a thickened pudding now. I closed the lid and got ready to thank the farmers, cattle and nature – all at heart, in front of the worship area, with all family members present.

Symbolising the new Harvest – vegetables and rice

Thanksgiving Time! Pongalo Pongal!!!

After the humble celebration at home, traditional meal with rice, sambar, avial, pachadi, poriyal, vadai and pongal was the treat of the day. It was truly a festival, remembering and thanking the Farmers, and their eco system of Nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, that provide them their basic means of livelihood, besides enabling us to reap the benefits of our primary food grains and vegetables.

Thai Pongal – The Harvest Festival and Sarkkarai Pongal

Pongal is the harvest festival of the Tamils. After the tamil month – Maargazhi, comes Thai (not pronounced as in Thailand. Pronounced as in thigh). It marks the end of the harvest season.  According to the tamil seasons – the month of Thai falls in Mun Pani Kaalam – early winter.

These are the tamil seasons classified in the literary works-

  • Ila Venil Kaalam – Milder Hot Season – The months of Chithirai and Vaigasi (mid april and mid june)
  • Muthu Venil Kaalam – Hot Summer – The months of Aani and Aadi (mid june to mid august)
  • Kaar Kaalam – Cloudy/Rainy Season -The months of Aavani and Purattasi (mid august to mid october)
  • Koothir Kaalam – Cold Season – The months Aippasi and Kaarthigai (mid October to mid December)
  • Mun Pani Kaalam – Early Winter/Dew – The months of Maargazhi and Thai (mid December to mid February)
  • Pin Pani Kaalam – Later Winter/Dew – The months of Maasi and Panguni (mid February to mid april)

(http://sangamtamilforeignscholars.wordpress.com/robert-butler/)

 

Pongal cannot be considered a religious festival, though it is more popularized as a Hindu Festival. It can be called as a thanks giving celebration – the farmers thank the Sun God for a bounty harvest and thank their cows for their milk and the bulls who helped them plough their fields and pull their carts.

People living in cities are not really connected to this professional affair. With much population moving towards towns and cities for non-agriculture based livelihoods, what keeps the tradition still alive?

The quintessential grain of the people of south india – ‘Rice’ is needed for making Idli, Dosai, Cooked Rice, Payasams, Savouries and many more food items. Might be this connection between those farmers and city dwellers keeps everyone celebrate pongal alike. When the farmers thank their cattle and nature for helping in their bountiful harvest, people in other parts celebrate Pongal as a thanks giving festival to  the Farmers who provide them with the incomparable and unsubstitutable RICE, other crops and vegetables.

 

Pongal is a four-day affair.

1. The first day – the last day of the month of Maargazhi – this year (2012) January 14 – is called Bhogi Pongal and is the day of cleaning.  All old unwanted things are shed away. People white wash their houses and new Kolams – traditional drawings on the floor with rice flour and the house gets ready to celebrate Pongal the next day.

 

Kolam  from free pongal wall papers 

 

 

All the houses from the richest to the humblest are thoroughly scrubbed and whitewashed. Homes are cleaned and decorated with “Kolam” – floor designs drawn in the white paste of newly harvested rice with outlines of red mud. Often pumpkin flowers are set into cow-dung balls and placed among the patterns. Fresh harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in from the field as preparation for the following day. http://www.123pongal.com/pongal/festival/bogi-festival.html

 

2. The second day is Thai Pongal. The day of Pongal, which falls on January 15, 2012 is the first day of the month of Thai. The Tamil saying goes –
‘Thai pirandhal vazhi pirakkum’ – meaning when the month of Thai is born,  good things start coming into everyone’s life.

Pongal is also called Thai Thirunal and Thamizhar Thirunal – which means the festival of the Tamils – beyond religions.

Pongal means boiling or spilling over in reference to rice or milk. It is celebrated in cities on the gas stoves in the kitchen. In villages and towns, mud stoves or brick stoves are used to cook the newly harvested rice on man chatti/earthen pots or vengala paanai/brass pot. The stove is kept on the traditional kolams drawn on bogi night and pongal – plain rice and sweet jaggery rice is cooked not in the kitchen but in front of every house – thanking the Sun God.

 

pongal wishes from free pongal wall papers

 

 

The Vengala Paanai used only for Pongal purpose, is also called the ‘Ponga paanai’ is given to every bride by her parents and the first pongal after marriage is called ‘Thalai Pongal’ and the new daughter-in-law celebrates Pongal with her new Ponga paanai. After a few years of usage, unfortunately now, mine lies back home and so I use the normal pressure cooker in kitchen to make Pongal.

There would be two Paanais/vessels. One with plain white rice and water and the other with plain white rice and when it boils, jaggery is added to make Sarkkarai Pongal – the sweet jaggery rice – the delicacy associated with the festival. When the new rice boils and spills over the paanai, women of the house say – ‘Pongalo Pongal’ in chorus.

Maavilai thoranam/decorating houses with fresh mango leaves, Manjal Kizhangu/Fresh turmeric with the fresh leaves tied to the Pongal Paanai, Karumbu/Sugarcane and Panankizhangu/Palm Root are certain things associated with Pongal and those which I miss a lot during these special days, not to mention the fresh Banana leaves.

Not only Sarkkarai Pongal, the whole feast meal consists of those traditional vegetables – the normal four coarse meal – ilai saapadu – is enjoyed by the whole family. Sambar, Rasam and Yoghurt being normal, Avial – a vegetable dish with coconut gravy – using raw banana, egg-plant, pumpkin, drum sticks and many other root vegetables is the highlight of the day. By the end of the day, the tongue would have lost its taste co-ordination due to the unlimited intake of sugarcane!

The strong and courageous use their strong teeth to peel the skin of sugarcane – enjoying the real taste of course. The more pampered ones like appa – my father – would have their share of sugarcane cut to bit size pieces by his mother – aachi . The sight of my then sixty-five to seventy year old aachi sitting down on the floor with her arivalmanai – colloquially aruvamanai – the all in all traditional metal knife with a base – which cuts, chops and grates coconuts, and cutting sugar cane for appa is still framed in my mind. Even now, she is ready for it, but we don’t let her do it!

For photo of Aruvalmanai – see – http://www.flickr.com/photos/techno_freak/512113871/

 

3. The third day is Maatu Pongal – the day to thank the cattle. When in Thoothukudi in my maternal grandparent’s home, since there were cows, maatu pongal would be a colorful affair. Mamas/Uncles would paint the horns of cows and calves in different colours and we youngsters would tie colorful flower garlands to their necks. Thaatha would bring the bullock cart from his farm – and when we were very young, would even taken a ride in the bullock cart. That diminished later, and only painting horns and worshipping them continued till there were cows at home.

This day is also famous for Manju Virattu or Jallikattu – the bull fight – the tradition that is regarded to be more than 2000 years. In ancient days, parents of a girl would give their daughter to a courageous man who tamed the bull.

 

Jallikattu is more than 2,000 years ago old. Good proof for it are cave paintings, showing men chasing bulls, that were found in Karikkiyur village located in the Nilgiris district. Long time ago Jalikattu used to be a way for local women to choose their husbands. http://traditionscustoms.com/strange-traditions/jallikattu

 

4. The fourth day is Kaanum Pongal. It is the day of meet and greet. People visit their relatives and friends on this day. This is also a day of family picnic with ‘kootanchoru’ – the mixed rice packed by aachis and ammas for everyone for lunch. My maternal grandfather – thatha would drive us – the grandchildren – to River Thamiraparani in Vallanadu in Tuticorin district. We would swim in those cold waters – or literally warm water – nearly for three to four hours enjoying kaanum pongal picnic. Thatha made it a thatha and peran/pethigal – Grandfather-grand children day. When we were older, thatha took us again – just to see the water which had turned ankle depth – that made us really sad.

 

 Now for the true essence of Pongal, Sarkkarai Pongal!

 

 

 

 Sarkkarai Pongal

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • pacharisi/raw rice – 1 cup
  • paasi paruppu/split green gram/moong dhal – 1/3 cup
  • grated vellam/jaggery/gud – 1 1/2 cup
  • yela podi/cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
  • nei/clarified butter/ghee – 4 tbsp
  • mundhiri paruppu/cashew nuts – 3 tbsp

 

 

 

 

Method of Preparation

  1. Cook rice and lentil in enough water in a pressure cooker (I used 5 cups for my rice quality)
  2. Mash well and keep aside
  3. Boil jaggery in 1/4 cup water till it dissolves and filter it straight into cooked rice and lentil
  4. Add cardamom powder and cook till jaggery syrup mixes well in rice and pongal reaches a thick consistency
  5. In a separate pan, heat ghee and fry cashew nuts
  6. Pour into Sarkkarai Pongal and mix well till everything blends well
  7. Sarkkarai Pongal is ready.

 

 

 

 

Note:

  1. The quantity of jaggery can be reduced if preferred
  2. Though amma prepares sarkkarai pongal with only rice as in traditional pongal paanai, this is the standard pongal cooked at all times – with split green gram mixed to it
  3. For an even better traditional taste – a bite of banana and coconut with a spoon of pongal tastes heavenly for some (I am one among those)
  4. For those with no sweet tooth or less sweet preference, but like to taste pongal – might try this one – have the sweet pongal with some sambar or coconut chutney.

 

5. January 16 of every year is also celebrated as Thiruvalluvar Naal/Thiruvalluvar Day. Thiruvalluvar is the author of Thirukkural. This would give a clear picture of the man and his contribution to Tamil Literary Works.

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Thirukkural is the masterpiece of Tamil literature with the highest and purest expressions of human thought. It is written in the form of couplets (two line poems) expounding various aspects of life. It contains 1330 couplets, divided into 133 chapters of 10 couplets each

Thirukkural was written by Thiruvalluvar, who is believed to have born 30 years before Jesus Christ. The Tamil Calendar is dated from that period and referred as Thiruvalluvar Aandu (Year). We find Thiruvalluvar as a moral philosopher, political scientist and master of public administration in the first two parts of Thirukkural. We find him to be a creative artist in the third part, depicting the fascinating aspects of lovers.

Thirukkural’s immortality and universality are unquestionable. Its ethics and values are applicable to all religions, countries and time. It has been translated in over 60 languages of the world. http://www.tn.gov.in/literature/thiruvalluvar/thiruvalluvar.htm