The first day of Pongal this year was on 14 January 2013. As usual, we were invited over to our friend Rajan’s house for the big family event of Pongal, the traditional breakfast meal done on this day.
We arrived about 9 AM In front of Rajan’s flat. His wife, Janakee, had created several nice kolams for this day. A powder made of rice flower and colored dyes is used to create these designs. The front decoration features overboiling Pongal pots and crossing sugar canes. In front of this design is what I think is a turmeric plant.
Next is a leafy vine design.
Then a lotus flower. Ramkumar, the ten-year-old son, stands near the entrance.
Jananee, the 13-year-old daughter, lights an oil lamp in the doorway.
The door design.
The household altar. Three stalks of sugarcane are here today.
Here is Jananee, busy cooking the meal. Preparation was delayed by one of the frequent power cuts experienced around here. The cooking requires grinding, and without power, grinding is much harder. So rather than use a grinding stone, they wait for power to return.
There is a plant brought out that we don’t recognize at first.
They tell us that it is turmeric. Now we notice the turmeric corms.
Power is back, so they can grind food.
They are grinding a kind of white dal.
Jananee stirs the sweet pongal, that is the featured course of today’s breakfast. This is made from this year’s rice crop, milk and sugar. When it is cooking, the milk will boil over the top of the cooking pot. This is the basis for a Tamil greeting for Pongal, which translates to “Did your pongal boil over?”
An array of pots set out for the meal. I just like the design.
In the kitchen, Jananee is making the last thing, the sambar (sauce) for the meal. She starts with onions and spices. While she cooks the spices the heady aroma is so strong it is almost intoxicating. I had to leave the kitchen so I didn’t get drunk on the fumes.
Carol sits and talks and laughs with the family. She looks nice in her saree.
Meanwhile Janakee dices eggplant (aubergine, in Tamil called kos).Behind her hands is the tool she used for this. It is a push-knife. A platform on the floor with a sharp blade angling up. Push the food past the knife to cut.
The ground dal and flavorings, ready to go into the sambar.
Near the altar Jananee sets out a special pooja plate, offering fresh crops to the gods. There is a slice of some kind of squash, legumes in the shell, and sweet potatoes.
The fresh turmeric is added to the plate.
This is a close up of part of the family altar. To the left is a photo that has become a shrine to Rajan’s deceased sister.
Pooja items are brought out to the front of the house and placed in the doorway.
The sugarcane stalks are brought out, and made to stand up in a tripod. We have see this before at Pongal.
They finish setting up for the pooja.
Jananee rings the pooja bell. (She had to struggle for a second with her brother, Raam, to get to ring the bell today.)
Rajan lights incense, and first offers it to the sun. Then he offers it to Arunachala, the natural presiding god for a Pongal pooja here.
A camphor lamp is lit.
The coconut is broken and set out. You know you are close to the end of the pooja now.
The camphor flame is offered first to the sun, then to Arunachala.
Then the flame is taken inside and offered to the family altar.
Everybody “takes the light.” We cup our hands over the flame and then touch our eyes and faces, passing the blessing from Arunachala to each person here.
We all then pranam to the flame and altar.
Now we can eat. We eat off banana leaf plates, sitting on the floor.
Janakee serves the food. Bacause of Tamil traditions, during the meal, the wife does not sit and join us. It is her role to serve the food to the guests. After we have finished, she can sit and eat. She will eat off of her husband’s plate.
Here is my plate. The two small servings at the top of the plate are prasad, food that was offered to the gods as part of the pooja. There is sweet pongal, savory pongal (rice stew), a vada covered with sambar, and coconut chutney. All very good!
Rajan eats, too.
Today’s breakfast reminded us of our first Pongal in Tiruvannamalai. I searched my archive and found these photos from 2008.
Pongal morning. Arunachala from our house at that time.
It was the first time we had been invited to share a holiday meal with Rajan and his family.
Below, the kolam in front of Rajan’s house. Again a design featuring pongal pots and sugar cane.
The two kids on the right are Ramkumar (with the funny glasses), and Jananee. She would have been 8, and he was 5.
Another view of the entry decoration.
Then the doorway decoration.
Rajan, Janakee, Jananee and Ramkumar. There is a third kid that I don’t know, I guess a neighbor.
Their household altar setup. The celebration is further along, and the coconut had already been broken before we arrived. So the main pooja had been done already.
After this we sat and ate. I don’t have photos of this.
For us, Pongal is a time, along with some of the other special holidays, that we join our local “family,” Rajan’s family, for a traditional family meal. These are precious occasions. And, as you can see, we get to see the kids as they grow up. Ah, the simple pleasures of life.
Happy Pongal to you and your family. I hope your pongal overflows.