Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The second day, Pongal, is the main day, falling on the first day of the Tamil month Thai (January 14 — 15). Also known as Sarkarai Pongal or Veetu Pongal, it is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots, which are later topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel. This tradition gives Pongal its name.
Kolam decorations in front of house during Thai Pongal
The moment the rice boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of "Ponggalo Ponggal!" and blowing the sangu (a conch), a custom practiced during the festival to announce it was going to be a year blessed with good tidings. For Tamils, it is considered a good sign to watch it boil over, since it means that good luck and prosperity is forthcoming. Then New boiled rice is offered to the Nature during sunrise, a gesture which symbolises thanks to the sun and nature for providing prosperity. It is later served to the people present in the house for the ceremony. People also prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, murrukku, payasam and visit each other and exchange greetings.
The third day, Maattu Pongal, is for offering thanks to cattle, as they help farmer in different ways for agriculture. On this day the cattle are decorated with paint, flowers and bells. They are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane. Some people decorate the horns with gold or other metallic covers. In some places, Jallikattu, or taming the wild bull contest, is the main event of this day and this is mostly seen in the villages.
During the final day, Kaanum Pongal (the word kaanum means "to view") people visit their relatives, friends to enjoy the festive season, but in the cities this day is synonymous with people flocking to beaches and theme parks to have a day out with their families. They also chew sugar cane and decorate their houses with kolam. This day is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. Although it started as a farmers festival, today it has become a national festival for all Tamils irrespective of their origins, caste or even religion. It is as popular in urban areas as is in rural areas.
In April (the month of Bak), when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) in the celestial sphere; Sri Lankans begin celebrating their New Year or Aluth Avurudhu (in Sinhala) and Puththandu (in Tamil). It marks the end of the harvest season and also coincides with one of 2 instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. On the day of celebrations, the sun is directly above Koggala (where a sun devale can be found). A new year of the Saka era begins with each festival.
However, unlike the Western celebration of the new year at midnight on December 31st, the Sri Lankan New Year begins at a time determined by astrological signs. Also unlike western traditions; the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart from one another (this span is determined by astrology as well) - this period is, aptly enough, referred to as the nona gathe (neutral period). During this time Sri Lankans are, according to custom, encouraged to refrain from material pursuits, and engage solely in religious activities and traditional games.
The date upon which the Sri Lankan New Year occurred, while determined by astrological signs, also tends to coincide with the end of the harvest season - for this reason, many farming communities celebrate the new year while gathering fruits that have fallen from their trees.
Cultural rituals begin shortly after the beginning of the new year with the cleaning of the house and lighting of an oil lamp. In some communities, women congregate to play upon on the raban (drum) to warn others of the incipient change in the year.
Families indulge in a variety of rituals which are carefully determined by astrological calculations - from lighting the fire to making the kiribath, (milk rice) to entering into the first business transaction and eating the first morsels.
Once these are done, the partying really begins as families mingle in the streets, homes are thrown open and children are let out to play. The ubiquitous plantain is dished out alongside celebratory feasts of kaung (small oil cake) and kokis (crisp and light sweetmeat, originally from the Netherlands).
Aurudu has become an important national holiday for both the cultures of the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Tamil Hindu Sri Lankans, and is unique as such, as it is not celebrated in the same manner elsewhere in the world (some countries do celebrate a similar festival on the same date or a near date) .