Pongal Festivities: A Celebration of Harvest 

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Shreya Singh (23S03C)

Vibrant hues, soft flowers and the fragrance of warm pongal; this is how the festivities began for the Pongal Celebration organised by the Indian Cultural Society (ICS) on 27 January.

In the event that you don’t quite understand what Pongal is all about, fret not! Upon interviewing some of the ICS members, I learnt that Pongal is a Tamil Hindu festival to celebrate and express gratitude for the bountiful harvest for the year. 

Informational posters related to Pongal that were put up at the canteen

Typically, spring cleaning occurs the day before Pongal commences. Tamil Hindus wake up early in the morning and get ready before dawn to celebrate the 5-day festival. 

Arranging flowers prior to participants arriving

The actual celebration involves the preparation of a dish called Pongal, consisting of rice and dal (lentils), that participants of ICS’ event had a chance to observe being made. 

With the ICS students adorned in their ethnic clothing and accessories, the celebration kickstarted around 3pm. The emcees opened the event by introducing what Pongal is about and starting the preparation of Pongal. Kulfi, an ice cream dessert, was served to all participants shortly after. 

Ingredients being added to the pot, courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society

The clay pot that this dish was being served in was beautified with an assorted collection of leaves: such as ginger, turmeric and mango leaves. Given that Pongal is a sweet rice dish, milk was first added to the pot.

This was followed with the addition of rice that had been soaked earlier, as well as moong lentils. Jaggery, an Indian palm sugar, was used to enhance sweetness while cardamom powder was added for spice and taste. Aside from this, ingredients like ghee (clarified butter), roasted cashews and raisins were also added to the dish. 

When the dish started to boil over, a chant of “Pongalo Pongal” (May the Rice Boil Over) arose in commemoration of the collective wish for a harvest, as participants and ICS members alike crowded around the table. 

The dish boiling over, courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society

After the preparation of Pongal, participants were informed of a clay pot decorating competition. Participants headed to wash the pots that had been used to serve Kulfi earlier. 

Washing the pot used to indulge in Kulfi

Paint, glue, sequins and ribbons were provided to help decorate the pots. Participants came up with their very own designs that were later judged by ICS members. Participants found this segment particularly gratifying, with some saying that they found it therapeutic.

The decorated clay pots in all their glory 

During this segment, I had some illuminating conversations with the ICS members, who shared that they were glad to have been able to organise an interactive event, as this has not been possible for a while due to the Covid-19 restrictions. 

Athi Ramesh Athirah (23S03C), an ICS member, shared that Pongal was meaningful to her because it is also commemorated to appreciate the farmers in India. The thing she looks forward to is watching jallikattu, a competitive sport involving bulls, which is meant to symbolise strength and courage, she added. 

The celebration concluded with a short prize-giving ceremony and the chairpersons of ICS thanking all participants who had taken the time out of their day to gain a better understanding of what Pongal is. Participants shared that many of them did not know much about the festival prior to the event, and that they had decided to go after their friends told them about it. 

While a celebration was belated, with the actual day of Pongal being on 14 January 2023, it was still successful with many participants having been educated more about Indian culture at the end of the day.

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