Society

Traditional games of the harvest festival gain popularity in cities

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’Tis the season to play

Pongal evenings are filled with much banter and laughter in the State, be it at village squares or community halls of apartment complexes.

Playing games is an integral part of these celebrations. “Certain traditional games are played only during the festival,” says Madurai-based T Thangapandian, an expert on rural Tamil games and sports. “Even jallikattu started off as a game, which later transformed into a sport and then a tradition,” he adds.

“Villagers would gather in a circle and a 10-feet long wooden pole would be plonked in the centre, the surface of which would be slathered with oil. Young men would be tasked with climbing up the pole. This game is called vazhukku maram (slippery pole). It’s fun to watch them clamber up the pole, hugging it tight. Many would come sliding down. Those who manage to reach the top win prize money,” he adds.

Traditional games of the harvest festival gain popularity in cities

According to him, over time, many of our traditional games have been edged out. “These include mallar kambam, that’s a combination of gymnastics and yoga. It also involves climbing up a pole, but this is not a slippery one. Similarly, there’s a game called kazhumaram played during Pongal in Dindigul, Coimbatore, Thanjavur and Theni districts. These regions grow coconuts and farmers there are used to climbing trees. They exhibit their prowess through the game,” he says.

In urban pockets, the most popular Pongal game is uri adithal, which involves players breaking a pot that is suspended at a certain height, blindfolded. “It’s similar to dahi handi played during Janmashtami in Maharashtra. Here, the player has to hit the pot that contains prize money with a stick,” explains Thennavan, a teacher at a Government school in Madurai, who is reviving traditional games by introducing them among school children.

Kabaddi matches and silambam performances are also equally popular. S Ramaraj from Natham near Madurai is a Kabaddi champion. “Although it’s our State sport, it is losing its sheen. It was seen as a rural sport until movies such as Gilli and Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu showcased it in a positive light. It then picked up. Kabaddi matches have now become regulars at festivals,” he says.

Thangapandian says games such as elavatta kal are regaining popularity. “After the 2017 jallikattu protests, there’s a renewed interest among urban youth in the rural lifestyle. I get enquiries from Chennai and Coimbatore for teaching elavatta kal but the game is not easy; it demands physical strength and expertise in equal measure,” he adds.

Games played in the evening include shows and performances of folk dance forms such as puli vesham, karagam, and oyilattam, according to Chithiraiveethikaran Sundar, who has written Thiruvizhakkalin Thalainagaram, a book on festivals in Tamil Nadu. “Pongal is an occasion for the farming community to take a break and play some games after the harvest and before the next sowing season.”

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 4:23:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/tis-the-season-to-play/article30567020.ece

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