Happy Pongal for 2014!
In Tamil Nadu, Pongal is the biggest family festival of the year, marked with gifts and special meals for family and friends. More about Pongal? From pongalfestival.org:
Pongal is the only festival of Hindu that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated on the fourteenth of January every year. Pongal has astronomical significance: it marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the Sun’s movement northward for a six month period. In Hinduism, Uttarayana is considered auspicious, as opposed to Dakshinaayana, or the southern movement of the sun. All important events are scheduled during this period. …
Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving farmers a break from their monotonous routine. Farmers also perform puja to some crops, signaling the end of the traditional farming season. It also sets the pace for a series of festivals to follow in a calendar year. In fact, four festivals are celebrated in Tamil Nadu for four consecutive days in that week. ‘Bogi’ is celebrated on January 13, ‘Pongal’ on Jan 14, ‘Maattuppongal’ on Jan 15, and ‘Thiruvalluvar Day’ on Jan 16.
The festival is celebrated for four days. On, the first day, Bhogi, the old clothes and materials are thrown away and fired, marking the beginning of a new life. The second day, the Pongal day, is celebrated by boiling fresh milk early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel – a tradition that is the literal translation for Pongal. People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each other’s homes, and exchange greetings. The third day, Mattu Pongal, is meant to offer thanks to the cows and buffaloes, as they are used to plough the lands. On the last day, Kanum Pongal, people go out to picnic.
At this time of year, the entrances of houses are marked with colorful kolams, designs made of rice flour and colored powders.
This is a household ready to greet guests for the ceremonial breakfast on the actual Pongal day.
The important ceremonial food is sweet pongal, a rice dish made with rice newly harvested from this year’s crop, milk, fresh from a cow (a white cow is best), sugar and flavorings. A common greeting for today translates to, “Did your pongal boil over?” (The right answer is, “Yes!”)
The overflowing pot is shown in the lower left of this kolam.
A pooja will be made at the top of the kolam, and then moved into the altar in the house.
This morning we were blessed to experience a nice family celebration, a breakfast that started with today’s sweet pongal, a sweet food to start to a sweet time for family and friends.
Old and Disabled Sadhus on Arunachala’s Pradakshina Road
For me the biggest part of this Pongal celebration happened the day before. This is the day that new clothes are commonly given within the family.
With Dhakshinamoorthy of the Quality of Life Trust, we are giving clothes to the old and disabled sadhus that the Trust helps care for. We could do this because of a gift from a reader of this blog for this purpose.
This sadhu greeted us on the way in into the Old Sadhu home. He is using a walker donated by Quality of Life Trust.
Here is the Old Sadhu home. It was built by two local brothers who wish to remain unnamed. Before this building, the home was a small hut built of thatch that leaked when it rained.
Inside are a number of sadhus and beds. They set out a few chairs for us. If you look closely you will see ceiling fans and lights, big improvements from before.
In the home now there is even a kitchen. Some meals are cooked here. The Trust delivers a good breakfast for each sadhu every morning, to make sure that some good food is eaten each day.
I start handing out parcels. In each is a breakfast for today, plus a new dhoti and “towel,” basic sadhu clothes.
The sadhu sitting on this bed, blocked from our view in this photo, is very old and disabled. I think he is blind. Another sadhu helps him take the gift.
This sadhu is in a wheel chair. At least he has one now. This is a big improvement in his life. Previously, they constructed a kind of a enclosure for him made from bedframes, so he would not fall and get hurt.
I cannot begin to tell you how moved is my heart during this. There is something here about these old sadhus that touches me very deeply.
Dhakshinamoorthy gifts a young yellow-clad sadhu, who is called, “Ramana.” He does much work to make sure that these sadhus are cared for. There really are no caretakers other than the sadhus themselves. Other sadhus who are able help as they can, even doing things like emptying bedpans.
There is a very old lady living in a nearby thatched hut. The sadhus want us to give her something too. So we did. She is a sweet old lady, who radiated a deep smile to me and held my hands.
Helping these old and disabled sadhus is a small-scale effort. There are only about 20 of them. There are no government programs for them, so the Trust is trying to help as they can. Donations are needed to continue this kind of help to these sadhus. If you might be able to help, reply to this posting, or send me an email, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Old Age Home
Then, a few hours later, we went to Sathya’s Café, out of which Quality of Life Trust is run. We are going to be giving new clothes to some of the old people supported by the Trust.
For about seven years the Quality of Life Trust has been the only source of food and support for a number of village elders who have been abandoned by their families. In India, old-age support is supposed to come from the oldest son. But what if there are no children, or no sons? What if the son destroys himself with alcohol, or gets sick and dies? Unless the family is strong and well-to-do, then there are not resources to take care of the old people in these cases. So maybe they become homeless, living on the street, having a miserable existence. The Trust helps with this. It is on a small scale, based on the limited donations they are able to receive.
Gokilammal is a 70-year-old woman. Gokilammal is almost blind, and, to make things worse, she recently broke her leg. She and her husband had just one daughter, who married and went from her parents’ home to live with her husband’s family. Gokilammal is so sad that her own daughter can’t come to take care of her. She has had a very hard time trying to survive on her own.
This is Sarada. Sarada is 70 years old. She was married at age 10 to a man she had never met. He is dead now and she is alone, uncared for by her family.
Another old woman, I don’t know her name. She is very short, probably due to her mother’s malnutrition while she was pregnant with her.
This is Raman. Raman is 70 years old. His family sent him out, abandoning him to the streets. He spent time roaming around, and he had to sleep outdoors on a platform. His life has been very difficult, until Quality of Life Trust accepted him into their small Old Age home.
This is Kashi. Kashi is a man 72 years of age. He was married and had only one daughter. Kashi’s wife died some time back. His daughter married and, as is the custom in India, went to live with her husband’s family. So now Kashi is alone and not able to care for himself.
Here is the group, standing with Dhakshinamoorthy for a Pongal photo.
Each one of these old people has a story to tell, one that might break your heart if you heard it.
The Quality of Life Trust, http://qualityoflife.in/, does all it can to help. What limits the help is too few donations received. Right now they help about ten people, and their funding is precarious, so month-to-month that things are difficult. They also have a waiting list of 35 additional old people in this village who are in similar circumstances and need help. There is no help available from the Indian government, so these people are on their own, to survive as best as they can. For six years my wife Carol and I have helped as we can. Ongoing help is what is needed the most. A donation each month, even a small one, helps the Trust feed, house, and take care of these people.
If you might be able to help, let me know. Reply to this posting, or send me an email, to email@example.com.