In many villages beyond Chengalpettu town, the lack of rains has failed to dampen Pongal festivities
Ten kilometres beyond Chengalpettu town begins a stretch of villages lined with paddy and sugarcane fields. And here live communities all set for what they term the most joyous time of the year.
Pongal celebrations have already begun in many villages in the vicinity of the city. The festival, say these farmers, is about their land, rain and cattle — almost everything that affects their lives.
It has not been a great year for them but their spirits are not dampened. “We suffered a loss of almost Rs. 150 per kg of paddy this year. The harvest has been bad as have the rains. But this is the time to pray the coming year wipes away all our sorrows,” said T. Cheran, a paddy and poultry farmer from Budhur village.
There are many rituals associated with Pongal. From cleaning the house with cow dung or semmann (red earth), to sprinkling turmeric water, villagers here say they follow as many Pongal traditions as possible. “At about 3 p.m., we gather around the Pongal aduppu (stove) and boil milk in a pudhu pana (new clay pot),” said Mr. Cheran.
The clay stove, fitted with nine stones, is an integral part of each house, set up when the house is built. “Experts are consulted so it faces the sunlight, he added. Around evening, the sun is bid goodbye with prayers for better rainfall next year.
There are quite a few local variants to certain traditions. “In some villages, they cook food in three pots, one of which is for ancestors. In certain households, the sakkarai pongal is cooked only for the cows. At least in Chengalpettu town, people have been rearing sandakozhis that are made to fight on Pongal,” said A. Krishnamoorthy, a sugarcane farmer in Edaiyathur.
R. Muralimohan of the Madhurantakam cooperative sugar mill cane growers association said the festival was celebrated in different ways in over 400 villages in and around Kancheepuram. “But since we received only 40 per cent of the expected rainfall this year, farming households have a tight budget for Pongal.”
Members of the All Crop Association of Chengalpettu organised a mini Pongal celebration on Friday. Villagers flocked to the sandhai (fair) to buy vegetables and fish from Koyambedu and Kasimedu at good rates.
“During Pongal, we also visit our married daughters with sugarcane grown at home, turmeric, rice and betel-nuts and leaves,” said C. Ramasamy, a farmer in Uthiramerur.
“On Pongal day, we make only vegetarian dishes but on Maattu Pongal, non-vegetarian delicacies are enjoyed. We also make and sell ornaments for cattle,” said R. Malar, a 38-year-old homemaker.