The final day of Pongal is called Kaanum Pongal (the word kaanum in this context means "to visit"). This is a day of relaxed time for family and friends. In Samuthiram Erikarai village, near Tiruvannamalai, this is a time for fun and games for the children. They play games like racing with a spoon in the mouth carrying a lemon, racing frog-hop style, musical chairs, hitting and trying to break an object while blindfolded, like an Indian piñata, and climbing up a greased pole. There are prizes for each event.
The village is near Arunachala. If you look you can see Pongal kolams (designs of colored rice powder) in front of houses.
The greased pole climbing event is near this big tree.
Pole and Target
The pole is maybe 20 feet high.
Tied to the top with a cloth is a bottle, I think with money in it. This is the goal, to retrieve this bottle from the pole.
For the first attempt, a boy tries to climb up the pole solo. A helper gets him started.
He is about halfway up the pole. The helper supports his foot.
Then he slides down. End of attempt.
Another boy, in in a red shirt, tries it. He does not get far.
Another solo attempt. This is the boy who tried it the first time. The boy with the red shirt assists.
Trouble is coming! The boys have discovered the nearby water faucet.
The climber is about halfway up, but supported from beneath.
Now other boys are throwing water at the pole and climbers, in case they are not slippery enough.
The climber after this photo made it a couple of feet higher, then slid down. End of this attempt.
Another solo climb that does not get far.
Now the boys are changing tactics. The are making the base stronger, with two boys instead of one.
A boy stands at the second level.
Another boy climbs to second level.
Standing on the shoulders of the base.
Now one of the boys tries to get to the third level – by climbing up over the other boy at second level.
Then everything collapses and they all slide down.
End of fifth attempt.
Up again with the same tactics.
One boy climbs up and over the level-two boy, and the red-shirted boy climbs up on the right, getting ready to go all the way up.
The boy gets up to level three, and seems pretty stable.
While level-three boy wraps himself around the pole, the boy in the red shirt starts climbing up.
Then everything collapses. End of the sixth attempt.
The two boys at base level wrap their arms around each other, trying to strengthen the base.
Here is one of the boys at base.
Two boys at level two.
Now a third tries to climb to level three.
It collapses, end of attempt seven.
Trying the same approach again. Already one boy is at second, with another climbing up to level three and yet one more in the red shirt starting his ascent.
Getting up to level three. The red shirt is ready to go higher.
Level three secure.
But then the base lets go and they all drop or slide down the pole.
Going up again, same plan.
Getting up to level three.
Yet another collapse.
Other kids and a few adults watch all this from the village temple.
To shore up the base, one boy has his arms wrapped tightly around the other’s waist.
Getting to the second level is easy by now. The problem is getting to level three and getting this level stable.
Climbing up to level three.
At level three.
Another boy starts climbing over the lower boys, trying to get to the top.
He does not make it either, they all fall down.
Now they are changing their tactics to add a third boy at the base level, adding strength at the bottom.
More boys climb up.
Three levels are established.
The third level is only temporary. He comes down to try again. The base holds.
Watch it! Other boys have found a hose, to improve their ability to squirt water.
Squirting with the hose as a boy tries to get to level three.
A boy gets near level three while another climbs behind him for the final assault.
Got to level three, giving the next boy a hand up.
There are four boys at level two now, quite a crowd.
Boys do everything they can to keep the others up.
The base holds though.
And they try to go up again.
They get to level three again just fine.
But it is just too much for the base level, and this attempt comes back to ground.
The boys talk, planning what to do next.
They decided they need to straighten the pole. It is just dug into a hole for today’s event.
The fans watch all the commotion.
Here is the target again, as yet untouched.
Trying again with a stronger base.
With two at level two, a third climber tries to mount the pole to get higher.
The blue-shirted boy gets to level three.
He holds the pole while a climber tries for level four.
The girls think it is fun and seem to like to watch the boys.
I see strain on the face of the boy at level three. It is not easy.
A village woman watches as she walks by carrying wood for her cooking.
It looks crowded at the top. More boys come to level three, one trying for level four, while water is being sprayed on them from below.
Collapses again. Boys try to hold another boy up.
Another planning meeting.
They are going with the same basic plan. Three at the bottom, two boys already at level two.
The fans still sit and watch. Sometimes one of the fathers comes over and gives his son a hint.
This boy seems happy, holding onto the pole.
Blue shirt tries to get to level three.
He is at three OK. Orange shirt tries to get higher. Until they all fall down.
These boys don’t seem to get frustrated. They keep making attempts, trying new approaches as they are convinced that the last approach would not work.
One boy is solid at level two, while another climbs up.
It looks like they are keeping two boys at level two. Orange shirt gets to level three.
Now a seventh boy climbs up from the bottom for the final assault.
He is at level three just fine.
Now up part way to level four. This is the highest yet!
The climber is going for it! He is going to try to get to the top!
He is up at the top!
Now he has to get the bottle. He tears at it with his teeth, since he has to use his hands to hold on.
That doesn’t work, so he slides the whole package down the pole. I guess this is within the rules. (What rules? This is India.)
Near to the bottom, there are many boys to help him. They got it!
Here is a photo of the climbers.
We did it! Yeah!
One of the climbers stands by his father.
Two neighborhood girls and one boy. (Yes, the littlest kid with the flowers in “her” hair is a boy.)
Carol and I ride off, happy after watching all the boys’ fun.
This was another part of village life that most visitors never see. We only witnessed it because a woman in this village who is our friend told us about it.
I have since found out that different forms of greased pole climbing are done around the world. Here is a great pic from a Malaysia event.