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Thai Pongal, the Second Day of the Four-day Harvest Festival of South India.


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Happy Pongal

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In Tamil, the word Pongal means “overflowing”, signifying abundance and prosperity. The Tamils in TamilnaduPuducherry, 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 PuducherryPongal is a four-day festival. It begins on the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi (மார்கழி ) and culminates on the third day of the Tamil month Thai ((தை ) – January 13 to January 16 in the Gregorian calendar.

In Tamil, the phrase “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, Maattu Pongal, and Kaanum Pongal.

Of the four-days Harvest festival, the second day is the principal day of the festival. This day is known as Thai Pongal by the Tamils and they celebrate it on January 14, the first day of the month of (தை). 

All the states in India 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 UttarayanamThis 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, and Uttar Pradesh, this day is is celebrated as Makara Sankranthi.

Gujarathis and Rajasthanis celebrate it as Uttarayana.

In HaryanaHimachal 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 at dawn in a new clay pot. When the milk boils and spills over the vessel, the folk blow the (a conch) yell “Pongalo Pongal!  The Tamils consider watching the milk boil and spill over as auspicious 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, payasam, etc., which they share with their neighbours.

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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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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Postlude


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The Veddhas or Wanniya-laeto (‘forest-dwellers’) of the wanni (dry monsoon forest) are Sri Lanka’s indigenous inhabitants. According to scholars, the Veddhas of today perpetuate a direct line of descent from the island’s original Neolithic community that dates back to at least 16,000 BC.

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Wanniya-laeto ('Vedda') elders of Dambana. (Source: Vedda.org)
Wanniya-laeto (‘Vedda’) elders of Dambana. (Source: Vedda.org)

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For the past eighteen centuries or more the indigenous Veddha communities have been forced to retreat deeper into the ever-shrinking forests pummeled by successive waves of immigration and colonization that began with the arrival of the north Indians in the 5th century BC.

According to their culture the Veddhas revere and venerate their ancestors. At present, the surviving dwindling Veddha communities still live in the dry monsoon forests with their uncanny knowledge of their jungle habitat. They still retain the memory of their prehistoric culture and preserve their cultural identity and traditional lifestyle, despite facing the many challenges and relentless pressure from the surrounding dominant Sinhala and Tamil communities.

In the North Central and Uva provinces of Sri Lanka, a few Veddhas have been absorbed into the mainstream Sinhala communities and on the East Coast into the Tamil communities.

The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.
The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.

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Ancient chronicles such as the Mahavamsa, relate the origin of the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from an area either in the northeast or northwest India, and his later affiliation with people from south India. Students of Indian history argue that the lore of Vijaya should be interpreted to favour either one or the other of the northern origins, or a mixture of people from both areas.

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W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.
W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.

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W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, a Sinhala linguist, supported the hypothesis that the Sinhalese people originated in Eastern India because over 50% Sinhala words resemble words in the Bengali language. Even so, the question: “Did Vijaya and his companions migrate to Sri Lanka from Singhpur, Kalinga in northeast India, or from Sihor, Gujarat in northwest India?” still remains unresolved.

Some scholars identify the Lála country, where Sinhabahu founded Sinhapur, with the modern Rarh region of West Bengal, India that is still called Lala/Larh. Sanskrit texts refer to it as Lata-desa. Al-Biruni, a historian, chronologist and linguist of the medieval Islamic era calls it Lardesh in the extreme hilly west of Bengal where the Hooghly district and modern Singur is located. However, some scholars identify the region as modern Gujarat.

References weigh more in favor of Vijaya’s origin to lower Indus, and Sihor, which was officially known as Sinhapur in Kathiawar peninsula in ancient times. Also, the only home to Asiatic lions (locally referred as ‘Sinh‘ or ‘Sinha‘) is Gir Forest in Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat and the approach to core Gir territory is just a few miles away from Sihor. In fact, to date, lions are sighted in rural areas adjoining Sihor.

According to the history chronicled in the Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya and his wayward followers before landing at Tambapanni, first disembarked at the haven called Suppäraka, now identified with modern Sapporo, in the Thana district north of Mumbai. If Lála country was in northeast India, how could Vijaya and his companions dispatched from there, land at the port of Suppäraka in northwest India?

If we presume that the story of Vijaya narrated in the Mahavasa is historically correct, then, Prince Vijaya and his followers would have set sail from northwest India from a coastal harbour in Gujarat. Their contribution to the modern Sinhalese must have been erased by the long-standing interrelationship with people from Tamil Nadu for over 2,000 years.

According to the Mahavamsa, the population of Sri Lanka is heterogeneous – composed of diverse ethnic groups from India.

So far, most studies on the genetic affinities of the Sinhalese have been contradictory. Some investigators suggest a predominantly Bengali contribution and a minor Tamil and North Western Indian contribution, while others point towards a predominantly Tamil origin followed by a significant Bengali contribution with no North Western Indian contribution.

However, it is emphatically proved that the ancient ancestors of the current Sinhalese people came originally from northeast or northwest India as shown by genetic, linguistic and religious connections. After their arrival in Sri Lanka, the ancients intermarried to a minor extent with the indigenous Veddhas. Population genetic studies on the Sinhalese undertaken by various investigators show that they certainly intermarried extensively with Tamils of Southern India than with the Veddhas.

For the most part, according to the Mahavamsa, the modern Sinhalese are related to the Tamils as far back as 543 BC, with some elements of ancestry connected later with Bengalis, Gujaratis, Punjabis and Indian Moors. This is also supported by a genetic distance study, which showed low differences in genetic distance between the Sinhalese and the Tamil, Keralite and Bengali volunteers.

Because Sri Lanka lies on important sea trade routes, it has from ancient times received a constant influx of people from India and from various parts of the world, especially from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Europe, and the far-east. However, the genetic studies on the Sinhalese do not seem to show any ancestry from China or Southeast Asia.

In the 1995 study, “Genetic affinities of Sri Lankan populations” by Dr. Gautam K. Kshatriya (Source: National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Munirka, New Delhi, India) published in Hum Biol. 1995 Dec;67(6):843-66, the author says:

Mythological and historical sketches of the Sri Lankan population indicate that it is heterogeneous and composed of diverse ethnic groups. Ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka relate the origin of the Sinhalese to the legend of Prince Vijaya, who arrived on the northwest coast of the island in 543 B.C. from northeast or northwest India. … Taking into consideration mythological, historical, and linguistic records of Sri Lanka, I attempt to study the degree of gene diversity and genetic admixture among the population groups of Sri Lanka along with the populations of southern, northeastern, and northwestern India, the Middle East, and Europe.

The genetic distance analysis was conducted using 43 alleles controlled by 15 codominant loci in 8 populations and 40 alleles controlled by 13 codominant loci in 11 populations. Both analyses give a similar picture, indicating that present-day Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to Indian Tamils and South Indian Muslims. They are farthest from Veddahs and quite distant from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India and Bengalis of northeast India. Veddhas, are distinct because they are confined to inhospitable dry zones and are hardly influenced by their neighbors.

The study of genetic admixture revealed that the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka have a higher contribution from the Tamils of southern India (69.86% +/- 0.61) compared with the Bengalis of northeast India (25.41% +/- 0.51), whereas the Tamils of Sri Lanka have received a higher contribution from the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka (55.20% +/- 9.47) compared with the Tamils of India (16.63% +/- 8.73).

Genetic Admixture of Sinhalese by Dr. Gautam K. Kshatriya

In the 2009 study, “Prevalence of genetic thrombophilic polymorphisms in the Sri Lankan population–implications for association study design and clinical genetic testing services” by V.H. Dissanayake, L.Y. Weerasekera, G.G. Gammulla, and R.W. Jayasekara (Source: Human Genetics Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Kynsey Road, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka.) first published electronically on July 8, 2009, is consistent with the notion that Sinhalese are closely related to other Sri Lankans. The frequencies of the alleles observed were very similar between Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, and Moors and they were also similar to those in some ethnic groups from southern India. Excerpts from the Abstract:

“We investigated the prevalence of genotypes/alleles of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) and haplotypes defined by them in three genes in which variations are associated with venous thromboembolism in 80 Sinhalese, 80 Sri Lankan Tamils and 80 Moors in the Sri Lankan population and compared the SNP data with that of other populations in Southern India and haplotype data with that of HapMap populations. … The frequencies observed were similar to data from other South Indian populations; […]”

Both the above studies present almost a similar picture. Genetic distance analysis, despite the limitations imposed by the data, shows that modern Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to the Tamils and Keralites of south India and the upper caste groups of Bengal. They are farthest from Veddahs and quite distant from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India.

Similarly, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to the Sinhalese because they were always and are near to each other historically, linguistically, and culturally.

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← Previous:  Part 6 – Abhaya and His Sister Ummada Citta

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Festival of Our Lady of Good Health, Vailankanni, in Washington DC


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj .

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The Oratory of Our Lady of Good Health, Vailankanni, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
The Oratory of Our Lady of Good Health, Vailankanni, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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On Saturday, September 8, 2012, devotees from Washington DC, Maryland, New Jersey and other parts throughout the country, and from Canada, undertook the pilgrimage to Washington DC. They celebrated the feast of “Our Lady of Good Health,” Vailankanni at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. The Most Revered Antony Devotta, Bishop of Tiruchirapalli, India, officiated as the main celebrant for the Pilgrimage Mass.

The members of the Indian American Catholic Association (IACA) – Tamils, Keralites, Anglo-Indians, Mangaloreans, Goans, Bengalis, Sinhalese, Asian Pacific Catholics, and other devotees organized the annual pilgrimage.

In 1997, the IACA realized its dream of establishing an oratory to “Our Lady of Good Health,” Vailankanni, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, DC. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the inauguration of the Oratory. This beautiful chapel at the nation’s principal Marian Shrine has become one of the most visited at the Basilica.

The devotees prayed and sang hymns in a variety of Asian languages – Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Marathi, Konkani, Bengali, Sinhalese, etc.

It turned out to be a valuable experience for me and my family members. We participated in the celebrations that conveyed the vibrant Indian traditions mingled with spiritual, cultural and ethnic heritage in a spirit of cooperation and harmony in Washington DC., United States.

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