Photographs: Eesha/Wikimedia Commons
TV stars and artists take us on a memory trip of the traditional Pongal celebrations in their hometown.
Pongal, the harvest festival that symbolises abundance and prosperity is celebrated in Tamil Nadu on the first of the auspicious month of Thai.
Traditionally, a festival of farmers, Pongal today is celebrated by every one and is one of the most revered festivals of Tamil Nadu, spread over four days.
Says popular Sun TV anchor Anjana Rangan, "I come from a big family and every year, our entire family comes together to celebrate Pongal. As children, besides the yummy sakkarai pongal, we cousins loved the juicy sugarcane and often held competitions to see who could eat the most."
One ritual that is zealously followed is the Kanu Pidi. "The women of the house get together and prepare small balls of coloured rice, yellow with turmeric and red with vermilion. This along with sakkarai pongal, banana and some vegetables is laid out attractively on dried turmeric leaves to attract the crows.
"A traditional song is sung, more like a prayer, to forever strengthen the bonds among family members, just like the family of crows," Anjana explains
Her fondest memory is of another ritual -- the family trip to a tourist spot on Kannum Pongal. Chennai's Marina Beach is one of the most popular hangouts.
"Despite the crowd, we'd visit the beach on Kannum Pongal and thoroughly enjoy ourselves on all the kiddy rides, and stuff ourselves with junk food. Our parents fulfilled our every whim," Anjana recalls.
Aishwarya Prabhakar, host of Super Kudumbam on Sun TV is equally nostalgic about this festival
"As children, the four-day holiday was the biggest attraction for us," she says. Her family visited the Chennai Trade Fair on Kaanum Pongal.
"Today the best part of the festival is watching all the new movies that release for Pongal."
Since the festival is to worship the Sun God, sweet pongal or sakkarai pongal is made and offered to the god as a thanksgiving for a good harvest.
The festival has special significance for Bhavna Balakrishnan, dancer, voice artiste and host of the popular Super Singer show on Vijay TV. She is an ardent devotee of the Sun God.
"At a very young age I learnt the Adithya Hrudhayam Slokam, a prayer to the Sun God and since then I offer prayers every day. So Pongal has always been extra special to me," Bhavna says.
"I got married in December, and Pongal was the first festival my husband and I celebrated together. I still remember the Sakkarai Pongal I prepared for the first time in my new home."
Krishna Pandian, 70, owner of several commercial properties, says Pongal is best celebrated in the village and recalls his own childhood celebrations.
"With the crops just harvested and all the months of hard work coming to an end, people needed a well-deserved break. They also had the money to indulge in a few celebrations. Houses were whitewashed and there were new clothes for everyone, including all the labourers," he recalls.
He gives a little lesson on the rituals of each of the four days.
"Each day has its own significance and religious value. Surya Pongal is celebrated in honour of the Sun God. The fragrance of the freshly harvested, hand-pounded grains cooking in an earthen pot over an open fire amidst a chorus of 'Pongalo Pongal! Pongalo Pongal!' as the milk boils over, is a memory you can never forget."
On the day of Mattu Pongal people took great pleasure in showing off their cattle. They painted their horns, tied little tinkling bells and smeared their forehead with vermilion and turmeric.
"A sari, dhoti or towel was then tied around the animal's neck and horns along with garlands made of coconuts, banana and bundles of rupee notes of various denominations.
"The bulls were then paraded around the village. Youngsters would try to snatch whatever they could from the bull, and many got kicked or injured, much like the Jallikattu, but not as dangerous."
Kannum Pongal was a sort of communal village celebration, Pandian says.