Of, for and by the farmers

NATURE'S BOUNTY Ready for harvest Photos: K.Ganesan

NATURE'S BOUNTY Ready for harvest Photos: K.Ganesan  

A time for thanksgiving, writes S.S.KAVITHA

It is that time of the year when paddy fields glisten, more lorries are seen traversing on village roads and farmers are elevated selling their produce. Festivals are unifying threads woven in the fabric of Indian society. They are special occasions to meet family members, friends and neighbours to forge new bonds and strengthen the existing ones. Most festivals are celebrated as birthdays of gods, goddesses, saints and prophets, death of a monster etc. But Pongal or Tamilar Thirunal is a thanksgiving festival for God and the beast. Much of the traditions, beliefs and celebrations that are still actively pursued in today's urban centres have their origins in rituals surrounding agricultural practices. Pongal is one such tradition handed over from one generation to the next. "Who says man forgets God when he is happy and prays only in misery. A farmer, whether blessed with bountiful produce or `bountiful drought or floods,' never forgets to thank the Almighty and pray for a prosperous year," says Pitchai (65) a farmer of Palaya Sukkampatti near Melur. "Last year we suffered owing to drought but this year, sugarcane yield was spoiled due to excess water. The size of sugar cane is also reduced and we are facing a similar fate as last year," he rues.Karrupiah of Pallavarayanpatti shares a philosophical thought: "Pongal is a gentle reminder that life is a cycle and we reap what we sow." He says, farmers start working just eight months before to reap the benefits of sugarcane as that is the growing period of the crop.

Bundles speak

Fifteen sugarcane sticks form one kattu (bundle) and a cart load is approximately 20 bundles (one vandi). As many as 20 `vandis' make one lorry load. "Last year, the yield was very less but traders were behind farmers. This year farmers are behind the traders though rains played a havoc," he says.Interestingly, from the size of a bundle, traders can trace the origin of the cane. For instance, if it is a 15-cane bundle it is from Melur, a 10-cane bundle is from Dindigul.

Time factor

Farmers plant `karunai' (sugarcane saplings) after Chithirai and at the end of Marhazhi, business picks up especially a week before Pongal. Farmers are driven by time factor as they have to sell their produce before Pongal or else sugarcane loses its market value.This year farmers have raised more sugarcanes. For example, a farmer who planted sugarcane on two acres last year managed to plant on three to five acres this year increasing the yield manifold, says R. Kannan, a trader.He shares how he spent Rs.7,000 touring the State to find a good place of harvest and finally found one in Sukampatti from where he purchased the sugarcane four months ago.In his opinion, sugarcane from Melur tops the list both in yield and taste given the alluvial soil deposit in the area due to Periyar- Vagai river basin. Another important item of Pongal celebration is the jaggery but neither the price nor the work involved in producing it is high, says B. Suresh. His family puts up `aala kottai' or 'vellakottakai' at Kottainathaanpatti and toils the entire day. For every `kopprai' of `pahu' they produce about 110 kg of jaggery and approximately they work out with five to six `kopparais' a day.


Likewise, turmeric tufts are transported from fields to sales point and koorai poo from Thiruvellarai which is otherwise discarded as a weed is also sold in bunches along with `aavarampoo' and mango leaves. These bunches are placed in front of the houses for it is believed that these weeds ward off the evil. Even the `red sand' or `kaavi' and kolam powder becomes a commodity for it decorates the houses. Banana leaves and fruits, fresh vegetables and coconuts are also in great demand as these items sell like hot cakes on Pongal eve."Though sugarcane price is low because of high yield in Melur, Natham, Algarkoil, Alampatti areas, the price of the vegetables will shoot up because of the damage caused by rains in Kodaikanal and other areas," says K. Kamaraj, executive committee member of Central Market Federation. The festival of Pongal falls in January and marks the favourable course of the Sun. It is a three-day festival and the fourth day is a day for outdoors and excursions. The first day is celebrated as bogi in honour of Lord Indra while the second day is dedicated to the Sun God seeking his benediction. The neck of the Pongapanai is tied with fresh turmeric and fresh ginger saplings with tender green leaves that symbolise prosperity. Turmeric for auspiciousness and ginger for the spice of life. Sugarcane offered is symbolic for sweetness and happiness in life. It is said that on this day Lord Sundareshwar in Madurai temple performed a miracle and breathed life into a stone elephant that could eat sugarcane. The carving of this event is in Meenakshi temple. From this month of thai starts the marriage season in Tamil Nadu. The third day is matu pongal celebrated for thanking cattle that toiled on the fields to bring a good yield. The entire atmosphere becomes festive and full of fun and revelry.Big commotion is seen when the game `Manji Virattu' starts in which groups of young men chase the running bulls. In some places `Jallikattu' is arranged. It is a bull-fight in which money bags are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls and unarmed young men are asked to wrest them from the bull's horns. Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving farmers a break from their monotonous routine.

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