Agriculture is the keystone of life here in southern India and the changing seasons are celebrated with puja (worship) at local shrines, but also with a great deal of happiness, food and loud music! At the moment there are acres and acres of rice which was planted after the monsoon and is now about halfway to harvest. The rice is a beautiful verdant green and the paddy fields look like an ocean of grass as the cool breeze we have at the moment sends ripples and waves across it.
Here in Tamil Nadu we have just celebrated Pongal – the harvest festival which welcomes the auspicious change in the suns direction as it begins to move northwards. Winter is now behind us and we move towards the summer – but it’s not a winter that any of my friends in Europe would recognise!
Pongal is a very popular festival for all Tamils regardless of their religion – whether Hindu, Christian, Muslim or something else they all get involved. The festival lasts for 4 days, so don’t try to get too much work done during Pongal because it just won’t happen!
Day 1 is for cleaning out all the unwanted things in your house and repainting. Many of our local villagers are poor but their houses look great with their new whitewash sparkling in the sun.
Day 2 is dedicated to the sun god. Prayers are said and Pongal rice (a lovely sweet mixture) is eaten.
Day 3 is a day of thanksgiving for cattle which are a central part of life in southern India. Cattle and oxen (and any other animals you can lay hold of such as sheep, goats or the pet dog or cat!) are washed and painted with brightly coloured powder paints in an amazing array of dots. The cattle also have their horns painted, then all of the animals are fed pongal rice. Best of all for the cattle, particularly the bullocks which pull the carts, they have a day of rest!
Finally, Day 4 is a day to share with the family – new clothes, food fun and games. Pongal is a great festival for bringing people together.
As well as Pongal rice everyone eats sweet sugar cane. Even our Alaskan Malamute Loki enjoyed it last year!
If you have a sweet tooth why not try making some pongal rice?
Ingredients 1 cup of long grain rice, 1/8 cup of moong dhal, 1 cup of milk, about ¾ cup of melted butter, 1 ¾ cup of brown sugar, ½ teaspoon of cardamom powder, small handful of raisins, about 8 or 10 cashew nuts,
1. Cook the milk, rice and dhal together until well done (you will need to add some water during cooking).
2. Fry the cashews and raisins in some of the melted butter until they are a golden brown then put them to one side.
3. Boil the brown sugar in some water until it becomes a thick syrup. Add the cooked rice and keep stirring on a low heat until well mixed.
4. Add the remainder of the melted butter, stirring all the time. Then add the cardamom powder – keep stirring!
5. Sprinkle the nuts and raisins on top and serve.