Happy Pongal from Samuthiram Village

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Samuthiram Village, adjacent to Tiruvannamalai, is at the foot of Arunachala. Many Westerners now reside in this village during the visitors’ season, so there are many western influences, but this is still basically a small South Indian village. I wanted to take photographs of the kolams that are in front of houses for Pongal; these are the most colorful and elaborate of the year. I had planned to go into Tiruvannamalai, and go into a district where I knew I could find large and fancy kolams, but, along the way, I passed through the village, and seeing what was there, felt that these were really more representative of Pongal. Most of the kolams shown in this post, then, are from Samuthiram Village.

Samuthiram Village is home to about 100 families, mostly poor and from lower castes. There are many rickshaw and truck drivers and their families who live in the village. There are some farmers, who work nearby plots of land. Many families have bicycles or motorbikes. I think none own automobiles. There are a few cement or asphalt roads, but most are still dirt. With a project done two years ago by the Quality of Life Trust, about 1/2 of the houses now have toilets (ecological composting toilets, called ‘Eco-San’ toilets). All this put together means that this village is probably more prosperous and forward-thinking than many villages in India. But it is still, through and through, an Indian village.

Here is some of what I saw this morning.

I started out a little after 7 AM. Near our house is the house of a very well-to-do family. I expected something great in front of their house. There was this kolam, with the traditional flower blossom stuck into a ball of cow dung, but pretty simple. Maybe they are rich, but not so rich in Pongal spirit.

On Perumbakkam Road, I pass by a home for orphan girls. They have a nice decoration outside their gate, with a Pongal message in Tamil.

Towards Samuthiram Village, this woman is still decorating her kolam. She is running late, since most of the others are already completed. You can see from her head covering that it is quite “cold” here, probably about 70 F.

This family shown below has the broad area in front of their house all decorated. They all wanted to come out for the photo. With this family, and most people, we are able to exchange joyful, “Happy Pongal!” greetings. It kind of reminds me of Christmas in the USA (maybe in the old days) where people exchanged happy greetings, “Merry Christmas!” The greeting in Tamil is “Pongal Vazhtukal.” We learned this phrase during our first Pongal, but still, four years later, we can’t pronounce it properly, and no one has any idea of what we are trying to say when we say it in Tamil.

Nice colors, flower motif.

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Village house with thatched roof, the front lined with kolams. Happy Pongal!

Decorative kolam. The father and son came out for the photo. The mother is behind the wall, cooking, probably. She has been up for hours already. People like to have the kolam done early, and the Pongal (milk and rice and other savory ingredients), should boil over before sunrise. An alternative Tamil Pongal greeting is to ask, “Has your Pongal overflowed?”

Two nicely colored kolams are in front of this house. Between them you see one of the traditional Pongal images – that of the sugar cane stalk.

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Pretty kolam. Red flowers and bananas from the puja plate decorate it.

Geometrical design. Good color. In Tiruvannamalai, for days before this holiday, street vendors stalls where you can buy all the colors you need.

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A girl stands near her mother’s design, mainly flowers.

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This street is lined, wall-to-wall, with pretty kolams. The bicycle vendor just takes his bike over them, without seeming to notice.

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This woman is performing her puja for the kolam. Her girl stands nearby, covered in a white cloth. Notice the big silver anklets on the daughter. I said that this village was more prosperous than many. In this culture, if a family has money, one of the first things they will do with it is to buy a few nice things for the children.

This woman wanted everybody to come out for the photo.

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In front of this nice house, a woman and her child stand by her morning’s work. The main element in her design are stylized swans.

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Birds in this kolam. Its message is just “Wish you Happy,” in English. It is surprising to me how many Pongal messages I see are in English. Is this from the western influence in the village?

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Pongal sugar canes decorate the top of this design, with the greeting, “Wish You Happy Pongal Welcome.”

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This design features the two main Pongal decorations, the sugar canes, and the pots of Pongal boiling over.

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Geometric design.

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Pretty, pretty, flower design.

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Geometric design featuring stylized puja lamps (“deepam”).

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Flowers and nectar-eating birds with long tongues.

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“Happy Pongal,” we say as they pose by the family kolam.

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The boy stands by the family’s kolam. The drawings are so painstakingly done, with the main design, borders, and often words of greeting.

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This is India after all, so there are cows in the streets. The street is dirt here, but that does not inhibit the kolam drawing.

Woman finishing the cooking for the soon-to-be-eaten special Pongal breakfast.

Nice kolam design, with a dog and puppy in front of the house. Note that this is a traditional house with a cement seat and a raised headrest, so this is a good sleeping place when it is hot inside the house.

Geometric design.

A flower mandala in front of this small shrine.

Very good flower designs.

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In front of Rajan’s house, I see his two kids. His daughter is holding cane stalks by the kolam, with Arunachala in the background.

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Rajan’s wife comes out. She has been setting out materials for a fancy puja on the kolam.

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An old woman sits in front of her house, fully decorated with Pongal kolams.

Colorful flower design, with tradition yellow flower in cow dung at the center.

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Another flower design, with interlocking pink and blue triangles joining them together.

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Flowers. What else? I am not sure. I guess I see a butterfly at the top.

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I think maybe this design is encircled by Pongal pots.

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Colorful flowers

This boy just walks over the design, giving no notice to the kolam that his steps will smudge.

Flowers, oil lamps, and Pongal pots.

Pongal pot, on wood for fire, surrounded by sugar cane stalks, with a flower on top.

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This design is very finely drawn, with flowers with tendrils extending from them, with a ‘Happy Pongal’ written in English script writing.

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Flowers in a geometric design.

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Flowers, …

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Flowers, …

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And more flowers, …

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All in front of this house.

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We are back now at Rajan’s house. We will have our Pongal breakfast here. This is a nice design, pretty colors, using Pongal pots over yellow fires, with purple sugar cane stalks.

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Another kolam in front of the door.

This house is a small three-room house. One of the rooms is a puja room. The cane stalks are in here now, as part of the puja.

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After the puja is over, we ‘take light’ from the camphor flame.

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Rajan’s wife, Janakee, is still cooking.

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Raam Kumar helps by chopping coconut for the coconut chutney that will be served with breakfast.

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Below is Jananee, 11 years old, shown with her mom. They both are wearing new clothes for Pongal. They also both have short hair, having recently been to a temple where the whole family sacrificed their hair as a part of the rite at the temple.

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Outside, Rajan feeds the cow. That they have a cow is a sign of prosperity.

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When Janakee cooks, she throws vegetable scraps into water. These are then fed to the cow, as a nutrient-rich meal.

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Meanwhile Jananee takes Carol into the bedroom, and starts working on a mehendi design on Carol’s hand. These are made using henna, and will stain the skin for some days to come.

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Jananee has done this to Carol before. Now she has gained skill and dexterity, so the design is cleaner and better rendered.

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Janakee, naturally, is still cooking, making vadas for us all to eat in a few minutes.

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More girls from nearby houses join Carol and Jananee in the henna party.

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Here they all are, showing off their decorated hands. They decorated Raam Kumar’s hand, too, even though he is a boy.

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We then go back into the house. It is time to eat. We sit on the floor, in front of banana leaf plates.

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Rajan is eating. First is served sweet Pongal, then the milk and rice Pongal that ‘overflowed’ this morning before dawn. This Pongal is made with newly harvested rice, so you can see the ancient basis for this festival as the harvest festival after the Northeast Monsoon late in the year.

After we all eat, Rajan will give his plate, unfinished food and all, to his wife. She then can eat, only after all of us are finished. It is good manners to leave quickly after eating, so the wife can eat.

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I have the milk-rice Pongal (with cashew nuts!) to the left of the plate, sweet Pongal and a vada above, with coconut chutney in the middle. Yum. Janakee keeps making vadas until none of can possibly eat anything else. We then say thank you, good food!, and leave, so she can eat too.

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Enjoyable morning. Now we go home to digest our meal.

As I think back on all the kolams I have seen, I reflect on all the different designs used in them. Usually a house will have a kolam in front of it each day. Each day’s design is different from the day before. The girls start learning how to create these designs when they are small, and keep learning how to make them throughout their lives. You can see in the designs photographed today the artistry and skill shown by these women, seen by outsiders probably as ‘simple villagers.’ I don’t think they are so simple.

Happy Pongal! Did your Pongal overflow?

Related Posts

To see more similar posts that you may be interested in, please look at this link: Festivals, Celebrations and Rites in Tiruvannamalai.

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One Response to “Happy Pongal from Samuthiram Village”

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