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Updated: January 10, 2014 08:49 IST

Chennai celebrates Pongal the rural way

Karthik Subramanian
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A traditional 'Pongal Thotti' in a village in Chidambaram district.
Special Arrangement A traditional 'Pongal Thotti' in a village in Chidambaram district.

Residents soak in festivities at ancestral villages; some visit nearby districts for taste of tradition

For some of the city’s residents, the Pongal holidays are an opportunity to get in touch with their rural roots, be it by visiting their ancestral villages or even making quick getaways to nearby districts to soak in the harvest festivities with farmers.

A. Dhanasekaran, an IIT-Delhi graduate who works with an automobile company as an industrial designer, makes it a point to visit his ancestral home in Edayan Pal Sori, a hamlet in Cuddalore district, which is a three-and-a-half hour drive from the city.

The 33-year-old’s parents and younger brother manage their 25-acre plot of agricultural land there, where they farm paddy and gram and celebrate Pongal. “The most important festivities are on Pongal day, which we refer to as ‘Perum Pongal,’ said Mr. Dhanasekaran.

“The festivities begin early in the day when we construct a tank (‘thotti’) using red sand or bricks. This becomes the sacred spot where the Pongal is cooked as an offering (‘padayal’) to the gods thanking them for the good harvest,” he said. This year however, Mr. Dhanasekaran’s farm has had only an average harvest.

There are subtle differences in the festivities from district to district, where farmers have localised the festivities over the years. It is also common for farm heads to celebrate the day alongside workers.

Ravindran Padmanabhan, founder of Chennai-based Innowave Healthcare, plans to visit his native place Ellayapalayam village in Nellore district.

“Bhogi (celebrated the day before Pongal) is in fact grander than Pongal itself in Andhra villages. It is great to visit our ancestral home this time of the year,” he said.

Another well-known technologist from the city, Kiruba Shankar is ready to entertain American guests this year at his 9-acre Vaksana farmhouse in Rettanai near Tindivanam. Freelance writers Zach Marks and Resham Gellatly, who run the website www.chaiwallahsofindia.com, will be arriving in the city soon and proceed onto to the farm to experience Pongal in the rural settings. “It is a harvest festival and there can be no better setting to experience it than at a village,” Zach Marks says. “We have already experienced Pongal once before in rural Tamil Nadu, at Madurai in 2011, when we also witnessed the Jallikattu. That was all about the craziness of the bull taming. But this year around, we want to experience something different.”

When visiting one’s ancestral home is not possible, there are other options — several corporate employees have started taking breaks from their grinding city routines to visit villages nearby.

Public charitable trust National Agro Foundation, which is involved in rural activities including rural tourism in Kancheepuram and nearby districts, organises a ‘Rural Day Out’ programme for corporates and school students at its centre in Illedu village, Kacheepuram.

Visitors get to sample life away from the din of the city and even participate in rural games like ‘uriyadi’, where blind-folded persons attempt to break pots. (The organisation’s website is www.nationalargo.org.in)

The districts adjoining the city, especially Kancheepuram and Tiruvallurt, have several paddy farmers who celebrate the harvest festival. The more colourful festivities, however, take place in the southern districts of the State.

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