Pongal, also known as The Harvest Festival, is a thanksgiving celebration that lasts for four days from 14 to 17 January 2018. It marks the coming of Spring and is celebrated globally especially in the South of India, and Tamil Nadu.
Here in Singapore, most of the celebrations are held in the vicinity of Little India, or at home.
As I walked along the streets of Little India, I became intrigued by the lively rhythm of Bollywood music, and the merry laughter coming from the market. I found that this, even just by itself, was an experience that spoke volumes about the festival as compared to the light-up.
My journey began along the small street of Campbell Lane, which has been converted into a mini street market. It was crammed with stall holders selling Pongal pots made from metal or clay for rice, or to hold large stalks of sugar canes and flowers for worship.
The ‘Bhogi Pongal’ that’s held on the first day of the festival, is where Indians worship the Lord Indra, the Ruler of Clouds and Giver of Rains. Usually, a spring cleaning is carried out to signify a sense of a fresh start to the month.
The scene of a vibrant environment unfolded, as crowds navigated along the wet narrow pathway, squeezing through fellow customers on their way to purchase festive items for the celebration.
Stallholders, on the other hand, went into overdrive, with some serving three customers at once, while others chopped stalks of sugar canes in preparation for sales.
Most people that you’ll find in this market are preparing for the ‘Surya Pongal’, the second day, where the Sun God, also known as Surya is honoured.
Every household cooks a pot of rice with milk to offer up to the Sun God at dawn, and it has to bubble over in a symbol of prosperity. After which, it is then served to members of the family and friends.
The third day ‘Matthu Pongal’, is the day where Indians honour and give thanks in remembrance to the cows for their hard labour.
The horns of the cows are painted, their bodies scrubbed down clean with flower garlands placed around their necks; not to mention being treated almost on the level of royalty.
Before the public was allowed to enter the animal farm, the cows were given blessed treats to eat and prayers were then conducted around them.
Thereafter, the blessings from the prayers were given to the waiting crowd, in the form of flame and water — part of the five elements of the Hindu religion.
While waiting, an Indian elder merrily explained to me that cows are seen as a presentation of Mahalakshmi, the goddess of wealth, power, luxury, beauty, fertility and auspiciousness.
As such they are given a variety of treats ranging from bananas to hay leaves as forms of gifts, to receive a blessing in return.
The mini farm is open to the public from now until 20 January 2018 from 10am to 8pm, and anyone can receive a blessing from the cows by purchasing a gift of fresh hay leaves for S$5 to feed them.
Celebrations never die down when the evening comes. In fact, at the back of Campell Lane, you’ll find a performance stage for the evening events.
From now to 20 January 2018, a variety of cultural fusion performances, such as exhilarating dances to melodious songs are set up for the public.
While the last day of the festival, known as ‘Kannum Pongal’ is just days away, the night celebrations can be seen as a representation of its meaning, along with the strengthening of ties amongst the community.
As my trip to the Pongal Festival 2018 drew to a close, I realised that the entire celebrations, from the vibrant market to the festive night performances, are a testament to the meaning of the last day. Pongal is not a major celebration as compared to Holi or Diwali, but it’s simple and joyful nonetheless.
As the celebrations last until the 20 January 2018, there’s still time to attend this lesser-known festival and enjoy a totally different cultural experience in Singapore.
Dates: Now till 20 January 2018
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