Happy Pongal


We are breaking from tradition this year, and spending the Pongal holidays in Pondicherry, as opposed to Madurai. No kolam in front of our doorstep; no sugarcane stalks gracing our entryway; no painted and decorated cows; and no sweet pongal. Krishnans and the rest of the Aravind Eye Hospital family – I miss you!

Selling sugarcane stalks door to door

Pongal is a four-day harvest festival celebrated in South India (in Karnataka, Pongal is known as Sankaranti). Elaborate, multicolored kolams replace the simpler, everyday white rice flour designs. A string of fresh mango leaves is hung over the front door. Legend has it that on the second day of Pongal, Lord Shiva performed a miracle where a stone image of an elephant ate a piece of sugarcane. On the third day, cattle, which have myriad uses for farmers, are celebrated.

Sweet Pongal
Sweet rice pongal cooked in an earthenware pot over a wood fire

Pongal is also the name of a rice dish which can be sweet or savory. During the Pongal festival, sweet pongal (rice, moong dal (split yellow lentils), jaggery (raw sugar made from sugarcane), dry fruit, and milk) is cooked in a new earthenware pot on an open fire and allowed to boil over, signifying plenty and prosperity. Fresh tumeric and ginger are tied to the pot.  The pongal is offered to Surya (sun god) and eaten as prasad.

Cow Eating Pongal
First serving of pongal fed to a cow


6 Responses to “Happy Pongal”

  1. 1 Vi January 16, 2007 at 12:11 am

    Celebrating Pongal in India seems so authentic to the celebrations here (in the US). In any case, wish you a healthy pongal!

    (Found your blog through my tag surfer).

  2. 2 yoomilee January 16, 2007 at 6:58 am

    Hi Vi! Thanks for the comment on my blog. Even I am nostalgic for Pongal celebrated in the villages. In Pondicherry, as in most urban areas, people go through the motions, but don’t really LIVE it.

  3. 3 lp January 25, 2007 at 12:43 am

    hi yoomilee 😉 awww, man! you’re really making me miss sri lanka. even there they celebrate it. it’s so yummy! the food, as well as the ambiance. anyways, hope you had a great pongal.
    hugs, lalita

  4. 4 studyabroadchronicle January 7, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. Now I am confirmed that one decoration is sugarcane stalks! The kolum is beautiful. I also had the opportunity to celebrate Pongal in a remote village. When you can, stop by and see my story at.. http://www.alaivani.com/Default.aspx?tabid=56&EntryID=198 Nandri

  5. 5 yoomilee January 8, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Hi Jen,

    Thank you for your comment on my blog. The sugarcane stalk motive has already started to appear in kolams in Pondicherry already in anticipation of Pongal. Your Pongal experience in the village is the “true” Pongal experience – Pongal in the cities is just not the same.

  6. 6 Salt Lake City countertops August 7, 2010 at 2:18 am

    It makes me feel nostalgic. The culture in there is still kept intact, it reminds me of Philippines. Where specifically in India?

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