தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'
R.Shanmugalingam

Chapter 25

‘typ pongkal vizA.’ was on Sunday the 14th instant. The millennia-old tradition of ‘tamizar’ realized the phenomenon and the built-in insight into nature. Forest preservation was a priority among ‘tamizar’ to be attuned fully with nature. ‘tamiz’ poem is replete with reference to ‘murukan or mAjOn’ as the deity who presided over forest wealth. The oldest grammar in ‘tamiz, tolkAppijam,’ assigned the sacred trust of the forest to divinity itself- ‘mAjOn mEja kAduRy ulakamum.’ The festival of ‘tamizar’ celebrated on the first day of the month of ‘tamiz’ January-’ty’ around the 15th of January, when cooking the raw rice from the newly harvested paddy without draining the water is offered to the Sun god.

It is a universal belief that the birth of ‘ty’ opens the way for many good things to follow. (‘ty piRaNtAl vazi piRakkum.’ Many celebrations and functions await the month of ’ty’ to take place. As far as possible everything is made or bought new for the ‘pongkal’ celebrations. New hearth for the earthen stove (‘manh aduppu’) shaped like a truncated cone out of clay and sun-dried to form a tripod. The night before ‘pongkal’ a suitable space is selected in the courtyard out in the open or in houses where there is an inner courtyard exposed to the sun, polished or plastered with fresh cow-dung. The earthen stoves are also similarly polished.

On an average the floor space so selected will be that of an average American room, about 10 ft X 10 ft. The borders are marked with lines and openings on all four sides as passages and the interior are decorated-’kOlam’ with powdered burnt bricks, rice flour and some colors are used to draw all types of pictures according to the artistic ability of the member or members of the household. ‘kOlam pOdutal’ is an ancient art form and I have seen some hand work that unfortunately disappears at the end of the day. This art form needs to be preserved and if possible saved as murals for posterity and models for future ‘pongkal kOlam.’

At the break of dawn, everybody bathes and wears new cloths or clean cloths. A new pot is cleaned and filled with water straight from the well and placed on the tripod hearth. Special firewood such as coconut dried inflorescence is mostly used for the hearth. A second smaller pot is sometimes used next to the main pot for ‘carkkaryp pongkal.’ Fresh milk is added to the pots so that the milk in the pot will expand and will overflow as a lather. This pot is watched very closely contrary to the old saying, "A watched pot never boils over!" The direction of flow over is supposed to show good or bad omen and if the boil over is towards the East good times are indicated. Once the milk has boiled over, it is time for rice and in some cases ‘pAcip pajaRu’ roasted and cleaned moong dhal in small quantity is added to the rice.

The man of the house circles the pot with the fistful of rice and drops it into the boiling water. This ritual is repeated three times, and any excess water is ladled out with the new ladle made out of coconut shell and arecanut timber handle. The remaining rice is added to the pot and water ladled out to leave only that much needed for the rice to cook so as not to require any draining. The small pot is also attended to similarly with the addition of a mixture of coconut milk and cane jaggery or ‘panam kaddi’ and spices such as cardamom to taste. While the cooking is going on mother will help in checking preparing various curries. One of the negatives and dislike for such ritual is the non availability of non-vegetarian dishes. Some scoff at such celebrations as idol worship and unfashionable. Celebrating nature in a clean and festive atmosphere is nothing to feel shy about.

As youngsters we had to keep singing ‘tevAram, tiruvAcakam.’ ‘kOLaRu patikam was one of father’s favorites on such occasions. The first verse is given below:

Between singing and attending to other chores we were lighting crackers a ‘ty pongkal’ must for us. We set up a chain of crackers once when the pot is overflowing and again after everything is cooked and offered to Sun god. The offerings or alms include seasonal fruits that are plentiful. Bananas, mangos, wood apple, jack fruit, pomegranate, oranges, lime, sugar cane setts, betal leaves, arecanut, and rock candy. These alms are spread in triplicate on banana leaves with the traditional lamp, ‘kuttu viLakku’ burning all the time.

Once the camphor has burnt out and after sprinkling water mixed with turmeric all around the house including the well, one portion of the alms is placed away from home mostly under a margosa or banyon tree for the spirits and one is kept in the shrine room, and later eaten by the Elders. If it was not an inauspicious day we visit or friends and relatives visit. If in the clan, due to various reasons and one of them is a recent bereavement in that family, such rituals are not performed.

Naturally, there is an obligation that they must be fed. Either they are invited or once the ceremonies are over, before we eat, take out is delivered to these homes. If we are lucky we may get strangers especially the poor to visit us that day. We youngsters compare notes with our peers as to the type and amount of fire crackers we used that day. In an earlier chapter I have mentioned about the ‘paddip pongkal’ for our benefactor animals that follows ‘ty pongkal’ in a day or two.

Some of the family temples in the neighborhood are also remembered and another ‘pongal’ is done there in the evening .

Questions were asked today as to how we celebrated ‘pongkal’ here in the USA. As you all can see I have done a paper ‘pongkal’ and not the real McCoy. In the beginning paragraph, I said ‘pongkal’ is with newly harvested paddy. Most of ‘tamiz Izam’ has missed this year’s ‘aRuvady.’ Let us hope situation will change for the better and our activities will get back to normal. I am reminded of this song women sing at times of transplanting paddy. So let us plant paddy for the next harvest and celebrate ‘typ pongkal.’ next year in ‘tamiz Izam.’

Thanks to occupation of our land by foreign troops, this year, our ‘pongkal’ is not to be! Let us all work to bring back traditional festivals and cultural events in our own native land and hear more of these unwritten songs.

to be continued

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