Foreign tourists in Madurai had a taste of Pongal, the harvest festival, at Melakottai near Tirumangalam on Tuesday. The Department of Tourim organised an “äuthentic” Pongal festival in a village setting for the benefit of visitors from abroad. Around 180 international tourists availed of the opportunity to celebrate Pongal with villagers.

Language was no barrier for the residents of Melakottai who welcomed their foreign guests. Sari-clad women and children sporting newly bought dresses assembled in front of each house to greet the foreigners. They shook hands with the visitors, wished them happy pongal and asked them through gestures if they liked the intricate ‘kolams’ displayed in front of the houses. The foreigners conveyed their approval in sign language and some even wished the villagers ‘Pongal Vaazhtukkal’ (Happy Pongal), which made the women blush and the children giggle. Old women greeted the tourists with ‘vanakkam.’

The visitors were fascinated by the sights and aromas that sorrounded them, from the wooden doors with intricate patterns of the old houses, ‘kolams,’ ‘kaappu kattu’ and the fragrance of chrysanthemums. Earlier, the villagers accorded them a traditional reception of melams, chrysanthemum garlands and aarthi. Walking through the narrow streets of the village, the tourists took photographs of the houses, women tending to the cattle which were decked for ‘Maattu Pongal’ and the colourful ‘kolams.’

Guided by the villagers, the foreigners also prepared sweet pongal in brightly-painted earthen pots. They then gathered at the centre of the village where they witnessed a number of traditional art forms such as ‘karagattam,’ ‘thappatam,’ ‘kavadi attam,’ ‘poi kal kuthirai attam’, and martial art forms such as ‘silambam’ and even karate. Students from the Government Higher Secondary School at Melakottai presented a cultural programme to entertain the tourists.

The foreigners danced to folk music performed by artistes with ‘karagattam’ and ‘kavadi attam.’ They danced to the notes of the nagaswaram, thavil and other musical instruments with karagam on their heads amid loud cheers from the villagers. Some of the foreigners also tried their hand at playing the nagaswaram and thavil.

The visitors posed for photographs with the locals, particularly with the children who bonded very well with them and escorted them through the village.

“It is a fascinating place and the people here are fantastic. They are proud of their culture and they are keen to showcase it. It is an amazing experience and we love it,” said a couple from the U.S.A.

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