Society

Dianne Jennet’s annual date with Pongala

Dianne Jennet   | Photo Credit: Aswin VN

Dressed in a colourful cotton sari, complemented with a red bindi, gold anklets, bangles and earrings, Dianne Jennet looked every bit the traditional Indian woman at home. She explains that she brings only cotton saris and blouses for her trip to India to participate in the annual Attukal Pongala. In fact, for many mediapersons in the city, no Attukal Pongala is complete without meeting the ‘Pongala lady from the US’. “Oh, the monikers are many but, yes, I do try to participate in the Pongala every year. I enjoy cooking the Pongala with my friends of many years now,” she says.

For 20 plus years, she has been studying and participating in the festivities. Her tryst with the Pongala began in 1992 when she came to India as part of Earthwatch, a group promoting sustainable development, and stayed with a family in rural Vellanad in Thiruvananthapuram district. “The family I was staying with were coming for the Pongala and that is how I witnessed my first one. It was not so big then but still it was so beautiful to see so many women congregate for this festival,” recalls Dianne, a former professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, California.

“We were hearing about Kerala a lot, about the high quality of life, rate of literacy, health indices and so on. Part of it was political but what was in the culture, the social landscape and beliefs that made the people take those political choices. I felt that their beliefs and attitudes may have played an important role,” she says.

The next time she came to India, she made it a point to time it around the Pongala and took videos of the festival and shared it with her friends and students.

The student of psychology with a special interest in women’s spirituality, eventually, decided to do her dissertation for her doctoral programme on the Attukal Pongala. Her guide was M.S. Hema, former head of the department of English at Government College for Women.

In 1997, she visited the temple and took part in the Pongala on the premises of the temple.

Over the years, Dianne has written several papers on the event. When she was unable to make it during a year, she decided to cook the Pongala in the US. “I got the timings from friends here and did the same there. So when women were cooking under the blazing sun, I was doing the same closer to midnight.”

She also happened to play an active role in the temple getting a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Today, along with other women, Dianne will also be cooking the Pongala in a house near Srikanteswaram in the city.


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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 7:01:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/dianne-jennets-date-with-pongala/article22893375.ece

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