Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Signs of Pongal

We are traveling in the month of January, 2008, and we're now deep into the state of Tamil Nadu. Now we start to see signs of Pongal as we go.

Pongal is the celebration of the new year, or, more specifically, happiness that the sun is coming back. Pongal consists of three days (plus or minus): a day of preparation, the day of Pongal itself, and the cows' day.

The woman you see at the right is carrying dry but unbaked Pongal pots. We passed her family as we were on our way to one place from another, and the whole family worked. The father and a kid or two were stoking the fire, while the woman and a girl carried pots she'd made over to be bisqued/fired. There were dozens of these pots, which are used on the day of Pongal; families take a handful of the first rice harvest of the year and boil it in one of these pots until it boils over. More about this later....

We headed off to a small village off the beaten track. This is a musicians' village, and a group of four men and four women who simultaneously play instruments and dance to the music (plus a few other musicians, too) are regularly hired to play for various celebratory occasions everywhere in Tamil Nadu.

The people of this village have rarely been visited by tourists, so far fewer of the children rush up to you, begging: "Pen! Pen!" as in some of the other locations we'd been to. In fact, many of the people in the village don't go to see the celebrations where their musicians & dancers play & dance, so they enjoyed the show, as well.

Another sight one sees during the preparation for Pongal is the decorative patterns many women draw on the ground in front of their homes. The designs are drawn with white chalk-like material; then sections are colored in as the artist likes. Some women draw more than one. As the days go on, the designs wear off under the feet of the people passing, until next year's Pongal season. Below you see some kids in the musicians' village, surrounding a large and more "naive" version of the many, many designs we saw:
After dancing us around the village, the musicians and we took a break for a cup of tea with others for a few minutes. Upon return, to begin dancing again, the musicians had to warm their drums to ready them for playing. They built a small fire off to the side...

....then started to play and dance again.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Moving on

Next, we drove to Pondicherry, an area that was French for a while, with the colonial qualities that the French loved reflected in the architecture, foods (of course!) and, as you can see from the gendarme at right, some less expected areas....

We visited a church within walking distance of our hotel. Across from the gate, a man slept on the sidewalk. I gathered from another man nearby that both of them regularly spent their days there.

We traveled next to Chidambaram. We got there in time to witness a morning service which, in this case, involved the offerings of what appeared to be a wealthy family (as evidenced by the amount and quality of the offerings poured on the altar). Many priests were present to participate at the ceremony; these are men of the Brahmin class whose lives are devoted to their temple.

Here (to the right, above) I've drawn the main ceremony, but there were several other, smaller scenes at play, too, such as the body language of the priest to the left and the flower offerings for sale, should a visitor wish to participate in the proceedings.