The Hindu Festival of ' Ponggal '

Posted by Lakshmi

Yesterday, 14 January, was the start of the 3 day Hindu Ponggal festival.  It it basically a thanksgiving prayer cum celebration for  a good harvest .   The first day is dedicated in appreciation of the farmer  and  good harvest bestowed ,  the 2nd day is dedicated in appreciation of  the cow ( will write about it later ) and the 3rd day is for young girls ( later write-up ) Since India  was and is still a largely agrarian society , a good harvest is  imperative for their continued livelihood.  So when the harvest has been done, there is great joy and rejoicing throughout.  A portion of the first harvested rice  is set aside for making a kind of  sweet rice pudding, sweetness being a symbolic meaning for sweet tidings all round . Fresh milk is boiled in a new earthenware pot( must be new, never old) and the rice is added in,  until it is cooked. Then,  sugar, ghee or clarified butter, raisins and cashew nuts are added.  Thats it!  The pudding is then offered as a blessing  and when  prayers are over, it is given to all the worshippers.   It really tastes yummy and because it is rich and sweet , I usually go overboard... quite a bit...... .

Did I forget to mention that there's a specific time and direction to cook this rice pudding- it must be at the exact time of sunrise and the stove must face eastward  Why?  Haiyoo, the sun rises in the east la. The time - 6.45am yesterday! It goes without saying that prayers are offered to the Sun God, Surya,  for a continued good harvest, before the cooking starts.  This is then followed by cooking plain rice in another new pot and also making a dhall/lentil curry with 9 kinds of vegetables as its accompaniment.

There are 2 ways to doing this.. The first option, which most families follow strictly, is to  conduct the prayer in their  house and start the cooking process, after which they will go the temple to receive blessings  ( for those who don't have their house stoves facing east in their kitchen, they will do it in the front open courtyard facing the rising sun and that means they have to improvise the stove from scratch - red bricks, charcoal/wood etc) Phew! The 2nd ( and invariably  convenient ) option is to go straight  to the temple and partake in the prayers and cooking rituals.

You don't have to guess very far at which option I took......... Hold on a minute there, I've a perfectly foolproof  excuse - my son went to school,  daughter  to college , my husband is a Catholic and so he's out of  the picture  and   I'm all alone !.  Even better, if I did cook, I'll end up eating a major portion of  it because my kids don't  gobble it like I do.  My last defence being, I can't take too much of  it but will be 'forced ' to eat it  since mothers have a built in 'garbage system  ' of waste not and want not , and  lastly, erhmm,   my trump card of an excuse -   reason, I'm a diabetic and cannot trust myself to cook sweetmeats !.  At this rate, I'd make a good 'loyar buruk' # , no ?   I know, I know, I'm a bad example  and lazy to boot.  Hey, I'm in Malaysia, land of short cuts,  not in India  ( I would probably have been chased out from the village )   And  why would I want to go to all that trouble to cook just 1 cup of rice ? I  can't get earthenware pots in Shah Alam, have to go to Klang town's Little India to get it and  all the other stuff , going to Klang is a terrible and horrible drivers' nightmare and Klang town itself would be in a complete chaotic state with shoppers jamming all the shops........ So you see, I have valid reasons, ya ? So there! , no one can find fault with me !!!!!

And so I cheated.  I went to temple for prayers, which was late by itself - not the prayers, silly ,  my timing! I couldn't get  there at 6.45am because - another perfect excuse  reason, -  I had to drive the children to school /and bus station at 7.00am  and ........God Almighty! ....I overslept.  Unforgivable, isn't it ? Worse is yet  to come.....most of the congregation had left  when I entered  the temple. The priest  looked up and smiled at me from his conversation with another devotee.  I gave him a sheepish smile and went about my prayers.  Now there were only 2 devotees  left , including me.  I finished my prayers and  went to take some of the sweet offerings.  The pot had quite a substantial amount  left. And that's when I had my ' AHA ' moment, Oprah style.    I'll take some home  but will modify it according to my taste and my children won't be any the wiser!! I  did just that- reached home, switched on the stove and sort of  ' re-cooked ' it with extra   fresh milk , extra brown sugar and  extra extra nuts. Very diabolical indeed, I must say....

It did taste better than before , I did end up eating a major portion of it and my children still think that I cooked it myself. So  you see, I was able to fulfil  my obligations after all.

Please God forgive me, for I have sinned..........

# loyar buruk- a Malay language colloquialism for an unqualified lawyer
                      who talks more than he can think

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