Friday, January 2, 2009

Termites and monkeys

One day, while driving from one location to another on one of the many narrow two-lane roads that run through the countryside of India, I spotted a huge mound of dirt.

Sure enough, it's a termite mound. But, more interesting than that, the mound pictured here is about four to five feet tall, with a larger hole than termites require.

When termites build a home as large as this, another creature sees it as a desirable living space: cobras. In this case, it appears that a cobra has moved in to its new digs.

Furthermore, cobras hold significance to the Indian people. When a termite mound becomes the home of a cobra, the local people start making offerings and prayers to the snake, which is thought to have powers of its own. As time goes on, the mound can even been reinforced, decorated or otherwise modified by the local population, in ongoing honor of its revered occupant. Ultimately it can become a small, local temple of its own.

Meanwhile, down the road from the termite-mound-cum-cobra home, we spotted many monkeys being fed by a local man.

Amazing creatures, monkeys are fascinating to those of us who don't see them in our day-to-day lives, but they do become difficult pests when encouraged to get food from people. Our guide told us of a woman who stayed at a hotel with a local population of monkeys that regularly stole things from the hotel's rooms' balconies. Either she forgot or did not hear the warning and hung some hand-laundry out to dry on her porch. Pretty soon the monkeys were swinging around with her underwear!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Third Day of Pongal--Cow's Day

Back to the celebration of the New Year which is called Pongal in India.

The third day of celebration is cows' day. Being a revered animal (and a significant contributor to the health of a family), the family cow has its own special day.

At every local market, several vendors sell many powders of brilliant colors for the various Pongal purposes.

(You've seen them before, used in the designs drawn in front of the homes-- see my March 12, 2008, posting.)

For this third day of celebration, they are used on the cows.

First, the animal is washed thoroughly in a nearby river or lake.

Next, dots of the powdered colors are used to decorate its body; in the picture of the calf here, additional decorative material has been placed around his neck.

Once prepared, the family cow is allowed inside the family's home for a while!

Other animals get to enjoy the special status on this day as well......

For more great information on Pongal, which is celebrated this month (January) each year, please see Varun Withu's blog (link posted on my site here)!