Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Today is Tamil New Year! Thai Pongal By

Holidays and festivals in Sri Lanka are an essential part of culture. The tradition and custom of celebrating Pongal in Sri Lanka is same as that of Tamils in India. Among the Sri Lankans, this festival is also known as the First rice festival, Thai Pongal and Ulavar Thirunaal. In Sri Lanka, Rice is both a staple food and an inheritance in which deities figure prominently. Thus, the harvest festival of Pongal is one of the most significant occasion for them.

On this day, the Sri Lanka Tamil farmers honor the Sun God Suriyapakaran. This happens when the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makara). Although the real solstice falls on 21 December, the Thai Pongal festival is celebrated in mid-January, or the Tamil month of Thai, to coincide with the rice harvest.

Legend has it that, Lord Shiva asked his bull, Nandi, to go to earth and tell the people to have an oil bath daily and have food once a month. But, Nandi got it all mixed up and told the people to eat daily and bathe monthly. Shiva was annoyed and said,"Now that people need to eat more, you stay on earth and help them plough the fields more!" Thai Pongal is family-oriented and the day begins with the boiling of a clay pot of Pongol rice at sunrise in the front of the house as the family delightfully cries out, "Pongal! Pongal! auchu!" which means, "It's boiling! It's boiling!"KolamsIn Sri Lanka, "Kolams" (Rangoli) marks the dawn of Thai Pongal in front yards of houses, drawn with rice flour paste. The idea is that ants and insects would feed on it and bless the house. At its centre is a lump of cow dung, holding a five-petal pumpkin flower, a symbol of fertility and an offering of love to the presiding deity.

The festival of Pongal is celebrated by Sri Lankans for two days. The first day is devoted to the boiling of milk in a pot to which rice, jaggery and the syrup extracted from crushed sugar cane is added. This sweet rice pudding is offered first to the Sun God, and is then eaten at the climax of a family festive meal. The second day is dedicated to the oxen who assist the farmers in the rice fields. It is called Mattu (cattle) Pongal. The animals are washed and decorated with straw garlands hung around their necks and horns.

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