KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Sundeshwar had breathed life into a stone carving of an elephant on the first day of the Tamil month of "Thai". Immediately after coming to life, the elephant ate the sugarcane that was offered to it. To symbolize this event, sugarcane is tied to the doors of all houses to usher in sweetness and happiness.
Pongal in Tamil means boiling over. It is a festival celebrating the harvesting of crops and the resulting abundance of food. The festivities last for four days; the first is the day for burning unwanted possessions, the second is dedicated to giving thanks for the rice harvest, the third day is set aside to honour the cow for its contribution and then the fourth day is for visiting relatives and friends and exchanging presents. Rice is cooked with fresh milk, lentils and jaggery (sugar made from cane) in an earthen pot placed over a fire. When the pot overflows, turmeric root is tied around the pot along with leaves. Pongal begins with Bhogi, a ceremony where old materials are burnt as offerings. Farmers used to burn anything that was no longer required, then people started burning old clothes and now people sometimes burn perfectly good clothing just to follow the ritual. There are efforts being made to discourage the burning ritual as the smoke can cause problems for those with breathing difficulties and the still-useful items could be given to the poor.
In addition to the tying of sugarcane to the doorways, many people create elaborate rangoli designs in front of their homes and businesses. These designs are made with ground rice, mixed with bright colours. The women start by laying out a grid with small dots of white rice. Then with a handful of rice powder they join the dots with amazingly swift movements until the outline of the design is created. Then the remaining rice flour is mixed with different colours, and the outline is filled in. The women are very creative and the designs seem endless. Each day the old design is washed away and a fresh rangoli is prepared. I have taken a few pictures of my favorites but it is impossible to capture the beauty that these designs add to a small dusty lane in this small town.
The last photo in this series is the dish called pongal. It is made from lentils and rice, much like the khichiri that we make but with much less water. It is only available at breakfast and is sold out early so most mornings it is gone before we arrive.
We went on the village tour sponsored by the Tamil Nadu Tourist Department but it was pretty lame. It appeared to be organized in order to provide great photo/television coverage for the heads of the department and for some politicians. There were speeches and presents and lots of cameramen. Afterwards they all interviewed the tourists to find out how much we enjoyed the afternoon. The best part of the event is the time that Anil and I slipped away and walked into the nearby rice fields and looked at the rice growing. Although I have seen rice paddies many, many times in the past, I was never actually in one and this was the first time I ever actually saw the rice stalks up close. The rice is still one month away from maturity, I will see if we can see some rice paddies ready for harvest somewhere else on our journey through the southern states.