Carol’s phone rang about 7 in the evening. When Carol got off the phone, I asked her about the call. “Mani from Ramanasramam called to ask us to go to a special Pongal breakfast tomorrow morning. Mani says that it is being put on by the new Tiruvannamalai Collector; he is a good man, and he wants to show support for him.” Mani runs Ramanasramam, and we had never gotten a call from him before. We felt that if he thought this was important, then we should go. In India, having Westerners show up at your event adds to its prestige. Not only were we going to go, we also called some other friends to invite them, too. We were told to get there at 7:30 AM.
We picked up our friend who had agreed to come with us, Linda, and got to the Tiruvannamalai Sports Complex, where the event was to take place. We got there at 7:30. Almost no one was there, just a few people getting ready for the coming event.
A woman was in the entrance to the complex, laying out a kolam.
Arunachala stands silently above us all.
Several young women came and started helping with the kolam.
Instead of colored rice powder, today they are using colored salt crystals.
In the entrance hallway were more items set out today; painted clay pots and sugar cane stalks, surely items that would be used in the ceremony.
The grounds were empty but for a few people.
Linda and Carol talked to the man who seemed to be in charge. He was the Director of the Tiruvannamalai governmental sports program, and manages this sports complex.
The grounds were nicely planted, with attractive flowering shrubs.
One of the girls is laying out a “WELCOME” sign below the kolam.
A tractor drives in, pulling a trailer. In the trailer are banana stalks.
These are carried to the entrance. Notice that a full bunch of green bananas hangs from the stalk.
These banana stalks are a symbol of prosperity to the Tamils of South India, and are a common decoration at these kinds of functions.
Colored salt crystals are added to the WELCOME.
And the men tie up the stalks to the pillar at the side of the entrance.
I walked through the entrance, looking around. I noticed this, written on colored chalk in the dirt of the running track: Sindhu and Lena. Young love, even in India where most marriages are arranged by the parents.
The sports complex is in the center of a large area where the district government offices are located. In the last few years Tiruvannamalai was made district capitol, and new governmental offices are still being built. These look pretty fancy, with decorated rooflines, and arched windows. We were told that this huge building under construction is the court house.
This is the District Police Office. We know it since this is where we go to see the Foreign Registration Officer, when we need to deal with our residency permits.
Looking over the sports field at the spectator stands of the sports complex, with Arunachala in the background.
I notice a group of young woman dressed in athletic gear. They seem to be sitting with their coach.
A few chairs are set out on the stands. I guess this is where the event will be held this morning. We were told that the Collector would be here at 8:30 this morning.
I notice, next to the stands, a commotion and a bunch of people doing something.
These women are using bricks to make simple wood stoves, where the can cook.
Back at the entrance, HAPPY PONGAL is being added to the entryway kolam
Girls have flowers, and are separating them.
The flower petals are then laid out on the kolam.
Meanwhile, the painted clay pots have been given to the women and set upon the brick stoves. The women are holding ginger plants, with fresh ginger bulbs still attached.
Men are starting to do something with the sugar canes. We will see what they are doing shortly.
Other men are putting up a “Welcome” sign for today’s event.
I see what they are doing with the cane stalks; they are tying them into a tripod.
The tripod is then set over the wood stove.
Water is being poured into the pots, to clean them.
Then the women walk off with their pots.
A group of young women has gathered around Linda and Carol. While they talk, Carol finds out that they are all in a sports residency program, and housed in a hostel near the grounds of the Collector’s Complex. They say that they train five hours each day, in addition to going to school here.
The Director of the sports program talked to me about how proud he was of the girls. One of them is one of the top girls in the state on 100 meter and 200 meter sprints. One of his champion athletes has traveled to France to compete, another to somewhere else outside of India.
To help improve their program, he said that they are going to add a composite running track here, like you would find at high level competition. The current running track is dirt. They already have a composite tennis court, and a competition swimming pool.
The entryway kolam is nearing completion. More girls are helping now, with many more standing and watching.
The women are returning with their clay pots. You can see that the pot is heavier now. It is filled with water to cook the rice. By the way, this woman is wearing a “half-saree",” which means that she is of age to marry, and still unmarried.
Kumkum and turmeric are readied. These will be used to make spiritual markings on the pots and stoves.
The clay pot, now filled with water, is placed on the stove. We were told by a Western friend that recently he had used one of these clay pots and was surprised that water boiled faster in it, and that they do not break if boiled dry. He says they are surprisingly effective.
The girls I had seen before are on the track, warming up.
Carol and Linda stand by the Welcome sign. Carol made sure she wore a nice saree today, since it was a Tamil event, and it seems that Tamil people like to see Western women wear sarees. I think it makes them feel like their culture is respected.
Marking the posts and stoves with yellow turmeric and red kumkum.
Now things are ready, so the fires can be lighted.
Getting more wood into the fire, now that it is started.
The fire is going now. Notice how they use the wood. The pieces are placed so that the end of the stick is in the fire. As the fire burns, the stick is pushed farther in.
Girls watching the Pongal fires. I am sure now they are from the sports training group that lives and trains here. For the family-oriented Tamils, this living away from home to train must be difficult for the girls and their families. So maybe watching the Pongal cooking is a bit of home for these girls. Their families must also be pretty poor, that they could not afford to bring them home for the holiday.
Pongal fires smoking away, heating the water first.
While the water heats, rice is brought around. Since this is Pongal, the rice will be new rice from this year’s crop.
Now on the track, girls are engaged in a classic Tamil competition. I do not understand the rules, nor know its name. Maybe readers can help with this. This is an agility game. There are two lines of people. One from the other team comes to your line and tries, I think, to get around your group. If you tag them, they return to their line and the try is over (I think). Maybe if you tag one of them, they are removed from their line for future trys. (At least I noticed fewer and fewer people in the lines).
Now it is time to add milk. This is store-bought milk, – you can tell from the bags – not milk brought fresh from one of the many local cowherds.
This woman has in her hands some of the other ingredients. I am not sure what they are. One thing looks like cashews.
Bananas go into the pongal (the sweet rice dish being cooked here today, eat pongal on Pongal). Two per pot.
Here is what the woman was holding. We can see cashews, yellow raisins, and green cardamom pods.
Smoke rising from all the fires. This is the reason there is so much smoke in the local air; most people still cook over wood fires.
In the entrance, three lovely Tamil women wait to greet the dignitaries.
The Welcome kolam is also complete. These remind me, in a way, of Tibetan sand paintings; beautiful and transient, done with much effort, then at the end, just swept away.
A man is helping out the cooks. One ingredient in the pongal is jaggery sugar from the sugar palm, which is native to this area. It comes in hard lumps. He is breaking it up, so it can be used.
Here is the almost-cooked pongal.
Again, since this is an Indian function, there is music: a typical reed horn and a drum.
I turn my attention back to the girls’ agility game. I do not understand. If this is a game of tagging, why are people tackled in a pile?
This seems like a pretty classic position. The girl in yellow is the attacker. There are two groups of two people on both sides of the court. They are all in positions where they can easily move to either side.
After the game was finished, we all had a chance to meet with the Collector, Anshul Mishra. He is the chief administrator (the Collector) and chief magistrate for Tiruvannamalai district. He is the head of the civil government. He has been the Tiruvannamalai Collector for about six months, and has already earned a good reputation. I know that he has tried to do things to help improve the atmosphere and environment of the Pradakshina route, by starting a program that rewards people who bring in plastic trash from the route. This is perhaps a small step, but it is an actual step that was taken. We have read in the paper that other cities have followed Tiru’s lead and put similar programs into place. To me, this is a sign of a man who is actually trying to make things better.
Next, the group went over the the pots of cooking pongal. Various dignitaries (including the Westerners present) were given a chance to stir the pongal.
Here is one of the “dignitaries,” Carol, stirring the pongal.
Then we went into the stands. All the dignitaries were served pongal to eat.
Below, the large group of young women that were present. I guess these are all part of the special sports tutoring effort.
Carol and Linda eat their pongal.
Then to the main event. It was not a politician speech, rather it was handing out awards to women athletes.
They got certificates, and a nice metal pot. The Collector gave the awards to the first group.
His wife gave them to the next group. I had a chance to talk with her earlier, and she seems intelligent, well educated, and a nice person. I think Tiruvannamalai is fortunate to have her husband as Collector, and her as his wife.
Group photos of award winners.
After the awards, the Collector tried to leave, but many people wanted him to stop and talk with them. Here he talks with the Athletic Director.
Behind the award ceremony was a poster featuring the newly elected Chief Minister of the Tamil Nadu state government, Jayalalitha. Does anyone know what the sign says?
Meanwhile at the pongal pots, they have overflowed during the award ceremony, and I missed it. Darn.
There is a small offering of pongal left on the brick stove.
The ladies are serving small amounts of their pongal on a banana leaf plate. They let me sample it. It was much tastier than what we were served at the ceremony!
Then they packed up the clay pot into the nice new metal pots. I think they were given these for participating.
Then they headed out, going home, pots balanced on their heads. Notice the cloth ring they have between the pots and their heads.
The event was now over, and we headed home, happy, and pleased to have had the chance to participate and see what we observed, and especially to meet the new Collector. I think he is a good man.