Category Archives: Events

Las Posadas – A Novenario of the Latinos


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj
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Chimayo Las Posadas (Photo - Mark Nohl)

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The festival of Las Posadas celebrated chiefly in Mexico, Guatemala and parts of the Southwestern United States has its origins in Spain. Observing Las Posadas has been a tradition in Mexico for 400 years.

The Spanish phrase “Las Posadas” means  “accommodations”, “The Inns”, or “lodgings”.

This traditional nine-day festival re-enacts the cold and difficult journey of María and José from Nazareth to Bethlehem and their search for a room at the lodgings in Bethlehem.

Even though the roots of this celebration are in Catholicism even Protestant Latinos follow the tradition.

The festivities of Las Posadas start in full swing on December 16th and ends on December 24th. These nine days are, in fact, a novenario – nine days of religious observance signifying the nine-month pregnancy of María carrying Jesús in her womb.

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A red Poinsettia (Photo - André Karwath)
A red Poinsettia (Photo – André Karwath)

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Devotees enact Las Posadas by carrying a doll or a statue representing the Christ Child and images of José and María riding a burro. The doll is left at the chosen home and picked up on the next night when the processional begins again. This continues for eight nights.

In certain areas, individuals play the part of María and José, with the expectant mother riding a real burro with attendant angels and shepherds; or the devotees would carry images of the holy family and the saints; followed by musicians, with the entire procession singing Posadas. Children may carry poinsettia flowers.

Holding candle lanterns the procession ambles through the streets of the community, stopping at previously selected residences, singing a Posada such as Para Posada (Asking for a place to stay). At each residence, the innkeeper responds to José’s query by singing a song.

Spanish

English

Afuera:
En
nombre del cielo
Os pido posada
Pues no puede andar
Mi esposa amada
Outside
Joseph asks:
In the name of heaven
I request you grant us shelter
Given that she cannot walk
She is my beloved wife
Adentro:
Aquí no es mesón

Sigan adelante
Yo no puedo abrir
No sea algún tunante
 Inside
“Probable” host answers:
This is not an Inn
Please continue ahead
I cannot open
You may be a robber
Afuera:
No seas
inhumano
Tennos caridad
Que el Rey de los cielos
Te lo premiará
Outside
Joseph replies:
Do not be inhuman
have mercy on us
Since the King of heavens
will reward you for that
Adentro:
Ya
se pueden ir
Y no molestar
porque si me enfado
Os voy a apalear
Inside
Still “probable” host answers:
You can already go away
and do not bother
because if I get upset
I will beat you up
Afuera:
Venimos
rendidos
Desde Nazaret
Yo soy carpintero
De nombre José
Outside
Joseph insists:
We come exhausted
From Nazareth
I am a carpenter
named Joseph
Adentro:
No me
importa el nombre
Déjenme dormir
Porque ya les digo
Que no hemos de abrir
Inside
Still unconvinced host replies:
I don’t care about your name
Let me go to sleep
Because, as I said
We shall not open
Afuera:
Posada te pide

Amado casero
Por sólo una noche
La reina del cielo
Outside
Joseph expects reasoning:
She asks you shelter
Dear innkeeper
for just one night
She, the queen of heaven
Adentro:
Pues si es
una reina
Quien lo solicita
¿Cómo es que de noche
Anda tan solita?
Inside
The almost convinced host asks:
So, if it’s a queen
who’s asking for it,
how is it that at night
she travels so alone?
Afuera:
Mi
esposa es María
Es reina del cielo
madre va a ser
Del divino verbo
Outside
Joseph answers:
My wife is Mary
She’s the Heavenly Queen
And she’ll be mother
Of the divine word
Adentro:
¿Eres tú José?

¿Tu esposa es María?
Entren peregrinos
No los conocía
Inside
Convinced host finally offers shelter:
Are you Joseph?
Is your wife Mary?
Come in, pilgrims
I did not know you
Afuera:
Dios 
pague, señores
Vuestra caridad
Y que os colme el cielo
De felicidad
Outside
Joseph gratefully says:
May God reward, sirs
for your charity
And may heaven heap you
With happiness
Adentro:
Dichosa la casa

Que alberga este día
A la virgen pura
La hermosa María
Inside
Host replies:
Joyful be the house
That this day hosts
The pure virgin
The beautiful Mary

 

The innkeeper after recognizing María and José allows them and the group of guests to enter their home.

All sing together:

Spanish

English

¡Entren santos peregrinos!
¡Reciban éste rincón!
Que aunque es pobre la morada
¡Se las doy de corazón!
¡Cantemos con alegría!
¡Todos al considerar!
¡Que Jesús, José y María
nos vinieron hoy a honrar!
Come in, holy pilgrims!
Receive this corner!
Because even though the place is poor
I offer it to you from my heart!
Let’s sing with joy!
Everyone at the thought!
That Jesus, Joseph and Mary
Came today to honour us!

 

Once inside, all kneel around the Nativity crib to pray the Rosary. The hosts provide refreshments.

The final location of the sojourn, most likely, would be a church where the devotees would sing villancicos at the end of each night’s journey.

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December 20, 1803: The Day United States Bought Louisiana for a Song – for Less than 3 Cents per Acre.


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj 

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“Let the Land rejoice, for you have bought Louisiana for a Song.” – Gen. Horatio Gates to President Thomas Jefferson, July 18, 1803

Never did the united states grab so much for so little.” – Henry Adams

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French Tricolor Flag - 1803
French Tricolor Flag – 1803

US Flag of 15 stars - 1803
US Flag of 15 stars – 1803

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Vente de la Louisiane” or “Sale of Louisiana” also known as “The Louisiana Purchase” considered the greatest real estate deal in history took place on December 20, 1803.

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The Louisiana Purchase of 1803
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 (marked in green).

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Louisiana has a long rich history. Native Americans settled there first, and then it became the mainspring of an empire, and finally it got incorporated into the United States. Various cultures: Native American, French, Spanish, the Caribbean, African, and the English influenced Louisiana, evolving it into a region of exuberant and intrinsic blend of ethnicity.

In 1528, a Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narváez  were the first European to visit Louisiana. They located the mouth of the Mississippi River.

When the first Europeans set foot in this region many native groups inhabited there such as: Acolapissa, Adai, Appalousa, Atakapa, Avoyel, Bayougoula, Caddo, Chawasha, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Houma, Koroa, Nakasa, Natchitoches, Natchez, Okelousa, Ouachita, Quinipissa-Mougoulacha, Taensa, Tangipahoa, Tunica, Washa, Yagenechito, Yatasi and so on.

In 1542, another Spanish expedition led by Hernando de Soto ventured into the north and west of the region where they encountered the Caddo and Tunica groups. In 1543, they followed the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. As they drifted along the river, hostile tribes besieged them. The natives followed their boats in large canoes. Continually shooting arrows they killed 11 Spaniards and wounded many more.

Gradually, Europeans lost interest in Louisiana until the late 17th century, when sovereign, religious and commercial aims surfaced once again. The French established their first settlements, on the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast, and claimed a vast region of North America. France then set out to establish a commercial empire and a nation under the French rule that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.

In 1682, the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, or Robert Cavelier de La Salle (November 22, 1643 – March 19, 1687)named the region Louisiana to honor France’s King Louis XIV. In 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, a French military officer from Canada established the first permanent settlement, Fort Maurepas, at what is now Ocean Springs, Mississippi, near Biloxi.

The French explored the Mississippi River valley and established scattered settlements in the region. By the middle of the 18th century, France controlled more of the modern United States than any other European power. The French colony of Louisiana originally claimed all the land on both sides of the Mississippi River and north to French territory in Canada.

The following present-day states were part of the then vast tract of Louisiana: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

In 1719, two ships, the Duc du Maine and the Aurore, arrived in New Orléans, carrying the first African slaves to Louisiana. From 1718 to 1750, transportation of thousands of Africans to Louisiana from the Senegambian coast, the west African region of the interior of modern Benin, and from the coast of modern Angola took place. The  influx of slaves from Africa strongly shaped the Louisiana Creole culture.

Having suffered damaging defeats in the Seven Years’ War against the British, the French wanted to prevent losing its Louisiana territory and the city of New Orléans to them. So in 1762, King Louis XV of France ceded the French American territory west of the Mississippi River to his cousin, King Carlos II of Spain by the Treaty of Paris of 1763. However, in 1763, France transferred nearly all of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain.

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Napoleon in his study
Napoléon Bonaparte

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At the end of the 18th century, Napoleon Bonaparte after grabbing the French throne looked westward to enlarge his empire. In 1800, the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso between Spain and France gave the son-in-law of King of Spain power over Tuscany in trade for returning the Louisiana Territory to French control.

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Thomas Jefferson Painted by Rembrandt Peale, 1800
Thomas Jefferson (Painted by Rembrandt Peale, 1800).

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After about two years, the United States government discovered the re-transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France. At this time, the Mississippi River had become the chief trading route for goods shipped between the states it bordered. President Thomas Jefferson sought to acquire New Orléans because of its vital geographic position at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The acquisition would ensure its right to sail its vessels down the Mississippi River through Spanish territory, and unload goods at New Orléans for shipment to the Atlantic coast and Europe.

In 1801, President Jefferson sent Robert Livingston to France to negotiate the sale of New Orléans; but Napoleon refused to sell the city.

In early 1803, the French commander Vicomte de Rochambeau lost a fierce battle in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). This battle consumed much-needed resources and it also cut off the French connection to the ports on the southern coast of North America.

Napoleon realized that France did not have a strong enough navy to maintain control of its lands far away from home separated by the Atlantic ocean. Napoleon’s sole aim was to consolidate his resources to conquer England. To raise funds for the troops and materials to wage an effective war against England, he decided to sell the French territories in North America.

Again in early 1803, President Jefferson sent James Monroe to France to negotiate the sale. However, in April 1803, just days before Monroe arrived in Paris Napoleon offered to sell to the United States not only New Orléans but all of Louisiana.

The Louisiana territory encompassed all or part of the 15 present U.S. States and two Canadian provinces. The Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, Napoleon’s minister of the treasury negotiated the terms of the Louisiana Purchase with Livingston and Monroe.

The land purchased contained all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River; most of North Dakota; most of South Dakota; northeastern New Mexico; northern Texas; the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orléans; and small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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Louisiana Purchase Historical Document
Louisiana Purchase Historical Document

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The United States of America purchased Louisiana for 50 million francs ($11,250,000) plus cancellation of the claims of its own citizens against France worth 18 million francs ($3,750,000), for a total sum of 15 million dollars – less than 3 cents per acre.

Upon concluding the purchase Robert Livingston, U.S. Minister to France, said of the transfer:

We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives … From this day the United States will take their place among the powers of the first rank … The instruments which we have just signed will cause no tears to be shed; they prepare ages of happiness for innumerable generations of human creatures.

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Black Friday and the United Stupids in America (USA)


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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People in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November. It is a national holiday in the United States and people celebrate the day with religious fervor.

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Thanksgiving Dinner (Photo: oldstrathcona.ca)
Thanksgiving Dinner (Photo: oldstrathcona.ca)

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People get together with their loved ones, invariably devour large amounts of food centered around an enormous roasted turkey, and like angels and saints praise and thank God for all that they have.

Traditionally, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season starts in the United States on the following day, the Black Friday. Most major retailers open their sales outlets extremely early on Black Friday to kick off the holiday shopping season and offer promotional sales.

The name “Black Friday” originated before 1961 in Philadelphia, after the disruptive movement of pedestrians and heavy vehicle traffic on the day-after-Thanksgiving Day and used broadly in other regions around 1975. Later, a new explanation of the term started circulating: “Black Friday” indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit and are back in the black.

Though Black Friday is not an official holiday, many non-retail employers give their employees the day off, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers.

Earlier, retailers opened shop on Black Friday at 6 am. However, in the late 2000s, many retailers opened their retail outlets at 5 am, and some opened at 4 am. Big names including Target, Kohls, Macy’s, Best Buy, etc. open at midnight. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, broke the Black Friday tradition in 2011 by opening its store on Thanksgiving evening.

Four years ago when I was in the United States, a week before Thanksgiving Day, a friend from India called me over the phone . He said that he had heard that on Black Friday electronic goods could be bought at bargain prices in the United States and requested me to buy a laptop for him. Little did he know about the madness that inundates the United Stupids of America (USA) on Black Friday.

On Black Friday, the American people unitedly become stupids by transmogrifying  from angels to demons.

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Black Friday - People waiting outside a mall.
Black Friday – People waiting outside a mall.

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They stubbornly gather outside malls, some from midnight on chattering and shivering, undaunted by the bitter winter cold, and wait for the shops to open.

When the shops open their doors, the stampede begins.

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Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall.
Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall.

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Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall (isource)
Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall (isource)

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Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall.
Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall.

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They behave like crazed animals. They barge into the malls like raging bulls. They trample and maul one another to buy more stuff that they already have or absolutely do not need; just 24 hours after offering thanks for how much they already have.

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Black Friday: Only in America, you find people, who just 24 hours after offering thanks for how much they already have behave like crazed animals frenziedly trampling each other to buy more stuff that they already have or absolutely do not need.
Frenzy buying on Black Friday (Photo: telegraph.co.uk)

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That is Black Friday for you in the United States of America. No other country in the world can boast of such a frenzied day.

Here is a video clip depicting the madness of the United Stupids of America for you to decide whether you too want to join these berserk folks and avail bargains on Black Friday.

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A Flash Mob for the City of Sabadell in Catalonia, Spain.


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

Banco Sabadell Headquarters in Sabadell, Catalonia
Banco Sabadell Headquarters in Sabadell, Catalonia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Sabadell Barcelona, the second largest city in the south of the comarca (county) of the Vallès Occidental in Catalonia, Spain is on the River Ripoll, 12 miles (20 km) north of Barcelona.

Sabadell and its archrival, Terrassa, in the east-central region of Catalonia, are co-capitals of the comarca of Vallès Occidental. These two cities pioneered the Industrial Revolution in Catalonia with their textile mills.

In the mid 19th century, nicknamed the “Catalan Manchester“, Sabadell became the most important wool city in Spain. Now, Sabadell is basically a commercial and industrial city with no significant agricultural activities.

On December 31, 1881, a group of 127 businessmen and traders from Sabadell Barcelona founded Banco de Sabadell, for financing local industries and providing them with raw materials (wool and coal) under more favourable terms and conditions.

In 1907, Banco Sabadell wound up the non-banking businesses to focus its activities on entirely on commercial banking.

In 1965, Banco Sabadell started its territorial expansion, slowly and steadily spreading to the nearby towns. In 1975, it started to expand beyond Catalonia by opening a branch in Madrid.

Now, Banco de Sabadell is the fifth-largest Spanish banking group with its headquarters in Sabadell includes several banks, brands, subsidiaries and associated banks specialises in serving SMEs (Small or Medium Enterprises) and affluent individuals interested in international trade.

Banco de Sabadell London situated at Sabadell House, 120 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5EA (Source: manchesterhistory.net)
Banco de Sabadell London situated at Sabadell House, 120 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5EA (Source: manchesterhistory.net)

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In 1978, Banco Sabadell expanded internationally by opening its first branch abroad in the heart of the City of London in the United Kingdom.

Banco Sabadell with its extensive commercial and operational experience and having an in-depth knowledge of the features of the Indian financial system started operating in New Delhi, India in 1994.

In 2012, on the 130th anniversary of its founding, Banco Sabadell launched a campaign called “Som Sabadell” (We are Sabadell) to pay homage to its founding city.

For culminating the campaign, Banco Sabadell arranged a scintillating flash mob with 100 people from the Orquestra Simfonica del Vallès, Cor Lieder Camera, Cor Amics de l’Òpera and Coral Belles Arts choirs.

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Save the Wetlands


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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On February 2, 1971, an international treaty for the conservation and wise use of sustainable wetlands called the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands‘, was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. It provided the framework for national action and international cooperation. In 1997, World Wetlands Day celebrated for the first time made an encouraging beginning.

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Wetland wallpaper
Wetland wallpaper (Photo credit: Jon Rieley-Goddard aka baldyblogger)

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Technically a wetland is defined as:

An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.

In layman’s words, a wetland is a land area saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.

Every continent has its own Wetlands that occur naturally except Antarctica. The Amazon swamp forests and the Siberian peatland are the largest wetlands in the world. Another large wetland is the Pantanal, which straddles Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay in South America.

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation adapted to its unique soil conditions. Primarily wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants.

A hydric soil is formed under conditions of saturation of soil with water, seasonally by flooding, or permanently by ponding (pooling of unwanted water) long enough to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part. This term is part of the legal definition of a wetland included in the United States Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198).

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as  wetland types.

Marsh is a flat, wetland area, devoid of peat, saturated with moisture during one or more seasons. Typical vegetation includes grasses, sedges, reeds and rushes. Marshes are valuable wetlands that maintain water tables in adjacent ecosystems.

Swamp is a low-lying wetland area found near large bodies of open water in such places as low-lying coastal plains, floodplains of rivers, and old lake basins or in areas where glacial deposits have disrupted normal drainage. An abundant growth of rushes and sedge characterize swamps in the northern regions. Trees, such as the swamp cypress and high shrubs dominate southern regions. Swamps can prevent flooding by absorbing floodwaters from rivers and coastal regions.

Bogs and fens (in eastern England) are types of mires – an area of wet, soggy, muddy ground.

Bogs receive their water from the atmosphere. Their water has a low mineral ionic composition because ground water has a higher concentration of dissolved nutrients and minerals in comparison to precipitation. Bogs have acidic soil.

Fens, also known as the Fenland(s), are natural marshy regions in eastern England.

A fen is the local name for an individual area of marshland or former marshland and also designates the type of marsh typical of the area.

Most of the fens drained several centuries ago, became flat, damp, low-lying agricultural regions.

The water chemistry of fens ranges from low pH and low minerals to alkaline with high content of calcium and magnesium. ,

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Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo - Martinsnm)
Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Martinsnm)

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Water in wetlands along the coastal shorelines is invariably salty or brackish. Water found in inland wetlands can also be fresh water.

Wetlands have many vital and fascinating characteristics that play a number of roles in the environment while also providing recreational opportunities.

Wetland systems improve water quality, control floods and buffer coastal communities from erosion vital for shoreline stability.

Wetlands are the most diverse of all biological ecosystems. They comprise a range of plants that provide essential food and habitat for various wildlife such as fish, birds, reptiles, insects, etc.

The wetlands are pivotal to 75% of world’s migratory birds. More than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles.

Wetlands can also be constructed artificially to serve as a water management tool in the design of water-sensitive urban areas.

Frankly, much of the report compiled by the world environmental agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) do not portend well.

For example, NOAA has authored a report, “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004-2009,” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds.

According to the report, the coastal watersheds of the continental United States lost wetlands at an average rate of 80,000 acres a year during the study period an area about seven football fields every hour, and a 25% increase over the previous six-year study period.

The loss of these valuable wetlands threatens not only the sustainable fisheries and protected species, but also the supply of clean water and stability of shorelines in the face of climate change.

Almost half of the population in the United States now lives in coastal counties. Continued loss of coastal wetlands means less protection for those communities in the coastal counties from strong storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Key factors in the degradation and loss of wetlands in coastal watersheds are directly traced to population growth and its associated development — both residential and infrastructure, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Agriculture needs wetlands for water, pest management, pollination and landscape improvement. At the same time, agricultural land acts as a buffer zone around wetlands, protecting them from developing industrial zones and urban areas. This cohabitation shows that wetlands and the agriculture sector are mutually beneficial.

Recognizing this connection, common strategies for wetland and agro ecosystem-conscious management are on global agendas.

Paul OuedraogoRamsar Convention’s Senior Advisor for Africa said:

“We need to find the right balance between the economic demands of agriculture and the necessary wise use of wetlands, which benefits both and is indeed essential for each of them.”

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 6 – Aboard the HMHS Britannic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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HMHS Britannic (Author: Allan Green, 1878 - 1954)
HMHS Britannic (Author: Allan Green, 1878 – 1954)

The HMHS  Britannic was the third and largest Olympic-class ocean liner of the White Star Line larger than the RMS Titanic.

Some sources claim the ship was to be named “Gigantic“. At least one set of documentations exists, in which Noah Hingley & Sons Ltd., in Netherton, near Dudley, United Kingdom, discuss the order for the ship’s anchors; this documentation states that the name of the ship is Gigantic. It appears more probable that the name Gigantic must have been used informally in correspondence with Harland & Wolff before being dropped quietly. However, Tom McCluskie affirmed that in his capacity as Archive Manager and Historian at Harland & Wolff, he “never saw any official reference to the name ‘Gigantic’ being used or proposed for the third of the Olympic class vessels.

The keel for Britannic was laid on November 30, 1911, at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, 13 months after the launch of the RMS Olympic. Her watertight bulkhead was extended, higher than Titanic’s had been. Britannic was designed to carry 48 open lifeboats. Of these, 46 were to be 34 feet long, the largest lifeboats ever carried until then and two of the 46 were to be motor propelled equipped with wireless sets for communications. The other two were to be 26-foot cutters placed on either side of the bridge.

Though Britannic was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner, she never crossed the Atlantic carrying the rich and the poor to the New World.

After improvements were introduced as a consequence of the Titanic disaster, Britannic was launched at 11:10 am on February 26, 1914. Around 20 tonnes of tallow, train oil and soft soap were used to move the gigantic ship down the slipway. In 81 seconds she stood afloat in the water.  Later, she was towed to the Abercon Basin for fitting by five tugs.

The British press hailed her as “a twentieth century ship in every sense of the word” and “the highest achievement of her day in the practise of shipbuilding and marine engineering.” However, after launching, she was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months.

In August 1914, when the first World War broke out, the shipyards in Britain focused on converting many liners for Transport of Troops. Some were converted to Hospital ships. Britannic‘s maiden voyage scheduled for April 1915 was cancelled.

On November 13, 1915, after being docked for 15 months, the British Admiralty requisitioned Britannic, which was just an empty hull, to use it as a hospital ship. She was readied in just six weeks before being put to use as a hospital ship and was given ship number 9618.

The public rooms on the upper decks were converted into wards for the wounded soldiers. The large first class dining rooms and the reception rooms were converted into operating theatres and main wards. Deck B was furnished to house the medical officers. The lower decks were fitted out for medical orderlies, other staff and the less wounded patients. In all, the ship was fitted to carry 3,309 people.

Digital plans of the Britannic in hospital ship colours by Cyril Codus. (Source: hmhsbritannic.weebly.com)
Digital plans of the Britannic in hospital ship colours by Cyril Codus. (Source: hmhsbritannic.weebly.com)

The ship’s hull was repainted in the internationally recognized colours of a hospital ship; a green band was painted along each side of the ship broken by three large red crosses, to provide her safe passage at sea. For protection at night, two large red crosses were painted on both sides of the boat deck and were highlighted at night with a band of green electric bulbs.

Renamed HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic, she entered service on December 23, 1915 under the command of Commodore Charles Alfred Bartlett.

On December 23, 1915, she entered service as His Majesty’s Hospital Ship – HMHS Britannic.

23-year-old Violet Jessop in her Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform while assigned to HMHS Britannic
23-year-old Violet Jessop in her Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform while assigned to HMHS Britannic

After her traumatic experience on the RMS Titanic, Violet Jessop secured a position with the British Red Cross as a stewardess. She was posted on HMHS Britannic.

Along with Violet on board was 27-year-old Arthur John Priest, a fireman / stoker, who, like her, had survived the collision of the RMS Olympic with the HMS Hawke, and escaped from the RMS Titanic when she sank on April 15, 1912.

Also, on board was 23-year-old Archie Jewel, one of the six lookout men on the deck of the ill-fated Titanic. On the night of April 14, 1912, he had worked the 8 pm to 10 pm shift and was in his berth when the ship hit the iceberg at 11:40 pm. He was one of the first to leave the ship on the starboard side at 12:45 pm in lifeboat 7, with just 28 people on it while the full capacity was for 65. After the Titanic, Archie was on board the SS Donegal which was sunk by enemy action in April 1917.

On December 23, 1915, HMHS Britannic left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Moudros, on the island of Lemnos, North Aegean, Greece under the command of Commodore Charles Alfred Bartlett. She reached Moudros eight days later on December 31, 1915 and returned to Southampton on January 9, 1916.

After completing two more voyages to Naples, she was laid up on April 12, 1916.

On August 28, 1916, HMHS Britannic was recalled to active service and was given a new Transport Identification Number, G618. She made two more voyages to Moudros returning with the sick and wounded.

The HMHS Britannic left Southampton at 2:23 pm on November 12, 1916 with Captain Charles Bartlett in command on her 6th outbound voyage to Moudros. On arriving at Naples on November 17, 1916, she took on board more coal and water.

The ship was secured for two days at Naples due to a storm. On Sunday, November 19, 1916, finding a brief shift in the weather, Captain Bartlett decided to sail away from Naples. A total of 1,066 people – sick and wounded soldiers, the ship’s crew, and the medical staff – were on board.

As HMHS Britannic left the port, a storm set in and the sea rose again. The following morning, the storm passed and the sea became calm and the ship passed the Strait of Messina without any further problems. In the early hours of Tuesday, November 21, 1916, the ship rounded Cape Matapan.

At 8:00 am, Captain Bartlett changed course for the Kea Channel, in the Aegean Sea, lying between the islands of Makronisi (to her port side) and Kea (to her starboard side), just off Cape Sounion on the mainland of Greece. Chief Officer Robert Hume and Fourth Officer D. McTowis were on the Bridge along with him.

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 Previous: Part 5 – After the Titanic Disaster

To be continued

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February 2 is World Wetlands Day


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj
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February 2 is World Wetlands Day

Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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On February 2, 1971, the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands’ was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the shores of the Caspian Sea,  to provide the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. World Wetlands Day celebrated for the first time in 1997 made an encouraging beginning.

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Wetland wallpaper
Wetland wallpaper (Photo credit: Jon Rieley-Goddard aka baldyblogger)

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A wetland is technically defined as:

“An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.”

In layman’s words, a wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that is adapted to its unique soil conditions. Primarily wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants.

A hydric soil is formed under conditions of saturation of soil with water, seasonally by flooding, or permanently by ponding (pooling of unwanted water) long enough to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part. This term is part of the legal definition of a wetland included in the United States Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198).

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.

Marsh is a flat, wetland area, devoid of peat, saturated with moisture during one or more seasons. Typical vegetation includes grasses, sedges, reeds and rushes. Marshes are valuable wetlands and maintain water tables in adjacent ecosystems.

Swamp is a low-lying wetland area, found near large bodies of open water, generally in such places as low-lying coastal plains, floodplains of rivers, and old lake basins or in areas where normal drainage has been disrupted by glacial deposits. Swamps are characterized in the northern regions by an abundant growth of rushes and sedge and in the southern regions dominated by trees, such as the swamp cypress, and high shrubs. Swamps can prevent flooding by absorbing flood waters from rivers and coastal regions.

Bogs and fens (in eastern England) are types of mires – an area of wet, soggy, muddy ground.

Bogs receive their water from the atmosphere. Their water has a low mineral ionic composition because ground water has a higher concentration of dissolved nutrients and minerals in comparison to precipitation. Bogs have acidic soil.

Fens, also known as the Fenland(s), are a naturally marshy region in eastern England. Most of the fens were drained several centuries ago, resulting in a flat, damp, low-lying agricultural region. A fen is the local name for an individual area of marshland or former marshland and also designates the type of marsh typical of the area. The water chemistry of fens ranges from low pH and low minerals to alkaline with high content of calcium and magnesium, but few other plant nutrients because they acquire their water from precipitation as well as ground water.

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Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo - Martinsnm)
Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Martinsnm)

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Every continent has its own Wetlands that occur naturally except Antarctica. The Amazon swamp forests and the Siberian peatland are the largest wetlands in the world. Another large wetland is the Pantanal, which straddles Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay in South America.

The water found in inland wetlands can be fresh water. The water in wetlands along the coastal shorelines are invariably salty or brackish.

Wetlands have many vital and fascinating characteristics that play a number of roles in the environment while also providing recreational opportunities.

Wetland systems improve water quality, control floods, and buffer coastal communities from erosion vital for shoreline stability.

Wetlands are the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems comprising a wide range of plants and serve as home to diverse animal life – fish, birds, reptiles, insects, etc., and provide essential food and habitat for wildlife. More than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles. Wetlands are crucial to 75 percent of world’s migratory birds.

Wetlands can also be constructed artificially to serve as a water management tool in the design of water-sensitive urban areas.

Frankly, much of the report compiled by the world environmental agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) do not portend well.

For example, NOAA has authored a report, “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004-2009,” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds.

According to the report, the coastal watersheds of the continental United States lost wetlands at an average rate of 80,000 acres a year during the study period. That’s approximately seven football fields, every hour! It’s a 25 percent increase over the previous 6-year study period.

The loss of these valuable wetlands threatens not only the sustainable fisheries and protected species, but also the supply of clean water and stability of shorelines in the face of climate change. Almost half of the population in the United States now lives in coastal counties. Continued loss of coastal wetlands means less protection for those communities in the coastal counties from strong storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Key factors in the degradation and loss of wetlands in coastal watersheds can be directly traced to population growth and its associated development — both residential and infrastructure, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Agriculture needs wetlands for water, pest management, pollination and landscape improvement. At the same time, agricultural land acts as a buffer zone around wetlands, protecting them from developing industrial zones and urban areas. This co-habitation shows that wetlands and the agriculture sector are mutually beneficial.

Recognizing this connection, common strategies for wetland and agro ecosystem-conscious management are on global agendas.

Now, 43 years later, the anniversary of the adoption and signing of the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands‘ is being celebrated under the theme ‘Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth‘.

Paul OuedraogoRamsar Convention’s Senior Advisor for Africa said:

“We need to find the right balance between the economic demands of agriculture and the necessary wise use of wetlands, which benefits both and is indeed essential for each of them.”

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Thai Pongal: The Harvest Festival of South India


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Happy Pongal

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The Tamils in Tamilnadu, Puducherry, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, celebrate the festival called Pongal (பொங்கல்) or Thai Pongal (தைப்பொங்கல்). This festival marks the end of the harvest season. The farmers thank the Sun, the principal energizer that helps to reap a bountiful harvest.

In Tamilnadu and Puducherry, Pongal is a four-day festival. It begins on the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi and culminates on the third day of the Tamil month Thai (January 13 to January 16 in the Gregorian calendar).

The Tamil word Pongal means “overflowing” signifying abundance and prosperity. “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” meaning “the birth of Thai heralds new prospects” is an oft-quoted popular saying among the Tamils.

The four days of Pongal  are Bhogi Pandigai, Thai Pongal, Maatu Pongal, and Kaanum Pongal.

First day: Bhogi Pandigai

In Tamil, the first day of the festival, namely the day preceding Pongal, is known as Bhogi Pandigai. Telugu people in Andhra Pradesh too observe this day and call it “Bhogi“.

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Bhogi Pandigai (Source - mylaporetimes.com)
Bhogi Pandigai (Source – mylaporetimes.com)

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In Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh people light bonfires at dawn and burn the derelict items found in their household. This practice is like Holika in North India.

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Pongal Kolam (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
My neighbours creating the Pongal Kolam (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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Next, they clean their house, whitewash and paint it if necessary, and decorate the house with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with kolams or rangoli (decorative patterns) drawn using brightly coloured rice powder/chalk/chalk powder/ white rock powder.

In villages, owners of cattle paint the horns of oxen and buffaloes in bright colours.

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Elders showering ‘bhogi pallu’ on children at a programme organised by Sri Gayatri Welfare Assocation and Cultural Youth Academy in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam / thehindu.com)
Elders showering ‘bhogi pallu’ on children at a programme organised by Sri Gayatri Welfare Association and Cultural Youth Academy in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam / thehindu.com)

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In Andhra Pradesh, in a ceremony called Bhogi-pallu, elders shower a mix of ‘regi-pallu‘, flower petals, pieces of sugarcane, coins and jaggery on children attired in colourful ‘langa-voni’ and other traditional wear.  Elders conduct this ceremony to ward off the evil eye from the children and bless them with abundance and long life.

Second day: Thai Pongal

The second day of the four days of Pongal is the principal day of the festival. This day is known as Thai Pongal by the Tamils which they celebrate on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai (January 14). All the states in India  also celebrate this day which coincides with Makara Sankranthi, a winter harvest festival. On this day the Sun begins its six-month long journey northwards or the Uttarayanam. This also represents the Indic solstice when the sun enters Makara (Capricorn), the 10th house of the Indian zodiac

In Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia it is celebrated as Thai Pongal.

In Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh it is celebrated as Makara Sankranthi.

Gujarathis and Rajasthanis celebrate it as Uttarayana.

In Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab it is celebrated as Lohri.

Assamese celebrated it as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu.

Nepaesel celebrate it as Maghe Sankranti or Makar Sankranti.

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Thai Pongal - Boiling milk

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In Tamilnadu, it is a tradition for the housewives to boil milk in a new clay pot at dawn. When the milk boils and spills over the vessel, the folk blow the sanggu (a conch) shout “Pongalo Pongal!” Tamils consider it an auspicious to watch the milk boil over as it connotes good luck and prosperity.

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Chakkarai Pongal

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Later, the women prepare Pongal by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new clay pots. When the rice is half-cooked, sugar, ghee, cashew nuts and raisins are added to the pot. This traditional preparation of sweet rice or Chakkarai Pongal derives its name from the festival.

Newly cooked rice is first offered to the Sun at sunrise as gratitude for a bountiful harvest. Women prepare savouries and sweets such as vadai, murukku, paayasam which they share with their neighbours.

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Third day: Maattu Pongal

Maattu Pongal (Source: happy-2013.blogspot.com)
Maattu Pongal (Source: happy-2013.blogspot.com)

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Cattle are important to life in rural India. They are a form of wealth to the rural folks.

The Tamils of Tamil Nadu celebrate Maattu Pongal (மாட்டுப் பொங்கல்) on the day after the Thai Pongal day. This day is also celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

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Maattu Pongal (Source - tamilrasigan.wordpress.com)

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The rural folk show their affection towards their cattle by applying kungumam (kumkum) on their cattle’s foreheads and garlanding them. They then feed their cattle with a mixture of venn pongal (sweetened rice), jaggery, banana, sugar cane and other fruits.

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Youths trying to tame a bull at a jallikattu held at Idaiyathur, near Ponnamaravathy, in Pudukottai district, Tamilnadu, India (Source - thehindu.com)
Youths trying to tame a bull at a jallikattu held at Idaiyathur, near Ponnamaravathy, in Pudukottai district, Tamilnadu, India (Source – thehindu.com)

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In many parts of Tamilnadu, youth take part in the adventurous game of Jallikkattu also known as Manju Virattu, or taming the ferocious bulls, to test their valour.

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Fourth day: Kaanum Pongal

People throng the Marina beach to celebrate Kaanum Pongal in Chennai (Phot: R. Ravindran/thehindu.com)
People throng the Marina beach to celebrate Kaanum Pongal in Chennai (Phot: R. Ravindran/thehindu.com)

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Kaanum Pongal is an auspicious day for family reunions for Tamils in Tamilnadu.

The Tamil word “kaanum” means “to view”. Siblings pay special tribute to their married brothers and sisters by giving gifts as a token of their filial love. People visit relatives and friends to rejoice the festive season. People have a day out with their families on river banks, beaches and theme parks.

Kaanum Pongal culminates the end of the Pongal festivities for the year.

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