Keeping Ponggal tradition alive in new normal

by BERNAMA / pic by BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR – Ponggal is celebrated on the first day of the 10th month of ‘Thai’ in the Tamil calendar which falls in January each year.

The month of ‘Thai’ or Thai maatham also marks a celebration for a bountiful harvest, and it is ushered in with the hope for a better yield next year, as a Tamil proverb goes Thai piranthal vazhi pirakkum or the advent of the month of Thai brings new opportunities.

Ponggal is not complete without the sweet rice dish which is prepared in a traditional clay pot, as an offering to the Sun God in appreciation of a good harvest.

Although many are now switching to aluminium pots to cook the sweet rice, there are some who still hold on to the tradition and prefer using earthenware and it is said that clay pots are still very much in demand, especially among the Indian community in the country.

K.Mahavisnoo, the third generation descendant of Krishnan Pottery which has been operating the traditional pottery business for the past 70 years said clay pots will be in high demand during new year for the Ponggal celebration.

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand is still high and our company has been preparing orders for clay pots for the harvest festival over the last seven to eight months.

“Almost 50,000 clay pots were produced by 15 workers. The pots will also be exported to Singapore,” said the 37-year-old man who also makes clay incense holders, water containers and lamps.

Mahavisnoo said although this year’s Ponggal would be celebrated in the new norm, there was a silver lining behind it as those observing it would have the opportunity to foster closer ties with their family members.

“Ponggal is different from Deepavali which has the practice of visiting others. It is celebrated in moderation at home and for this year, since the school session has not started yet and with the current work-from-home order, many can celebrate it together with their respective families.

“Keeping the spirit of this celebration alive is also necessary to educate and give exposure to the younger generation about this traditional occasion,” he said.

The Ponggal festival which is celebrated on Jan 14 is spread over three days.

On the first day, which is also referred to as Thai Ponggal, family members usually gather round the clay pot that is used to cook the sweet rice to watch it boil and overflow.

The ‘overflow’ signifies abundance and prosperity.

The second day, Mattu Ponggal, is celebrated in honour of cows and bulls which are considered sacred by the Hindus. These animals are bathed, decorated with garlands and their horns painted.

Kanni Ponggal, which is on the third day, is dedicated to unmarried women who dress up in fine clothes and offer prayers in the hope of getting a good husband.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Hindu Sangam (MHS) president Datuk R.S. Mohan Shan reminded those celebrating the festival to always adhere to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the government.

“Temples may celebrate the festival, keeping the limit of 30 people at a time and following all the existing SOPs for places of worship. It is advised that large public celebrations of Ponggal are avoided this year.

“As the festival ushers in a new beginning. we pray that the coming month of Thai will bring us all auspiciousness, good health and prosperity,” he said in a posting on the MHS’ official Facebook page.

Mohan Shan said the auspicious time to prepare the sweet rice is between 9am and 10.20am or alternatively between 11.55am and 1.20pm, on Thursday.