Bhogi’s place in Tamil tradition


‘The tradition is not followed in many places outside Chennai’

Bhogi and the festival of Pongal have become inseparable. The burning of old goods and the beating of drums mark Bhogi in Chennai and a few other places. But scholars differ on its place in Tamil history and tradition.

“Even today, the tradition is not followed in many places outside Chennai. Bhogi has a north Indian origin. Of course, houses are white-washed and old goods and vessels are discarded. Cracks in walls and damaged courtyards are mended. But I have not witnessed the burning of goods in the name of Bhogi elsewhere,” said V. Arasu, former Head of the Tamil Department at the University of Madras.

He said though references to cleaning and refurbishing ahead of Pongal could be found in Tamil literature, seldom was the practice referred to as Bhogi.

“Tamil culture has nothing to do with the celebration or worship of fire. It is normally seen in north India, and is probably [a means] to beat the cold climate,” Mr. Arasu explained.

A few scholars have, however, sought to prove the existence of Bhogi in Tamil society by interpreting the word to give a symbolic meaning.

Symbolic meaning

Tamil scholar T. Gnanasundaram said the reference to ‘Indira Vizha’ in the ancient Tamil epic Silappathikaram could probably connote the Bhogi festival. “Indiran is a bhogi (an epicurean of sorts), and is also considered the God of rain. Rain is everything for an agrarian society,” he said.

T. Dharmaraj, Professor and Head of the Department, Folklore and Cultural Studies, Madurai Kamaraj University, argued that there was a place for Bhogi in Tamil Buddhist tradition.

“Pandit Iyothee Doss (a 19th-century Tamil scholar who espoused the cause of the depressed classes) claimed that Buddhist monks lived in Pothigai Hills, and the word could have originated from there. ‘Bhogi’ means burning all impure thoughts in one’s mind,” he said.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 12:24:49 PM |

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