Bhogi, Pongal, Maattu Pongal, Kaanum Pongal, Makar Sankranti, Bhogali Bihu and Lohri and of course Jallikattu

I consider Pongal to be the real national festival of India, more than Deepavali. It is one festival that is celebrated all over India in various names. I come from Tamil Nadu and Pongal is the name for this festival in Tamil Nadu. It implies a sweet dish made of rice, moongdhal (paasiparuppu in Tamil, one form of lentils) and jaggery (brown sugar made of sugarcane) with cashew nuts and dried grape (Kiss miss is the name I am familiar with and I have no idea where this came from. It is certainly not a Tamil word). I know a lot of Tamils consider Pongal as a ‘Tamil festival’ and I learn that the Canadian Prime Minister has wished all the Tamils on this day and declared January as Tamil Heritage Month¬† (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69SzPbvF81w). He has wished it in English, French and Tamil! Clearly, the Tamils in Canada (from Sri Lanka and India?) are more active than others from India and they have not informed the liberal Canadian Prime Minister about Shankranti yet.

Mark Twain wrote ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness’. What is more important is to learn about your neighbours, in your street, in your office, in your district, in your state, in your country and most certainly in our earth. If you cannot travel, talk to people who may have traveled to your neighbourhood. I have been fortunate not only to travel but also to meet people from all over the world who come here. I have heard about Shankranti (it is spelled in many ways. Seems like Pongal has only one spelling ūüôā may be after I left Tamil Nadu. I have heard about Bihu and Lohiri as well. All these are farmers’ festivals. I have not learned much about these festivals and the local customs in the regions where they are celebrated yet. Let me mention what I have learned about Pongal growing up in Madurai.

I had written a blog earlier about Deepvali (1) and pointed out that it is celebrated on different days in various parts of India.¬† In Bangalore, it is at least a three day affairs whereas in Madurai, it is a one-day festival. Pongal used to be a¬† three day affair in the Madurai I grew up in 1960s-70s. It starts with the Bhogi pandigai (2). It’s a day you discard the old and embrace the new. People used to have a bonfire and burn all the old things. Bhogi cannot be a Tamil word as words cannot start with the sound ‘bho’ and it has to be ‘po’ for Tamil. (See comments below. Added on 6 February 2017)¬† The next day is the main festival Pongal and it’s the first day of the Tamil month Thai. As I had mentioned in another blog, it’s also considered a New Year’s day for Tamils and there are different opinions. (3) On this day, we get up early and cook Pongal, both the sweet one mentioned above which is yellow in color and also ‘Venpongal’ (white pongal). This has the same rice and lentil and lot of pepper in addition to cashew nuts.¬† These are offered to God and eventually taken back for consumption. We buy sugarcanes and eat them. You need strong teeth. Several farm vegetables are cooked for lunch too.

The third day is called ‘Maattu Pongal’, a specific Pongal day for the bulls and cows. Bulls help in farming and cows give us milk. These are considered as part of the family and one can see the bulls and cows dressed up and decorated walking joyously. If you had known about a recent blockbuster movie in Tamil called Shivaji, directed by Shankar with Rajnikant as the lead, you would have known the popular song ‘Kaveri aarum kaikuthal arisium maranthu poguma’ (can you forget the river Kaveri and the rice grounded by hand’. (Youtube¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1RYrQL6fkg). In this song, I couldn’t forget one line ‘aadumaadu melae ulla paasam, veetil ration cardil saekka cholli kaekkum’ (the love one has for the cattles, they will be added to the ration card’. Ration card is given to families in India when food¬† is rationed).¬† The cattle is part of the family.

And of course, on this day, they will have Jallikattu in many of the villages around Madurai. I had always wanted to see it live as it is a major tourist attraction as well. Though I have been to many parts of the world, I never had a chance to see a Jallikkattu live. I am more eager to watch one now than ever before. Because of an ignorant, perhaps motivated, PETA filing a case in the Supreme Court in Delhi, Jallikkattu happening in Alanganallur, a village near Madurai, has been banned. The blame should not only go to Peta and the Supreme Court but also the Tamil Nadu Government and the lawyers representing the other side. I couldn’t believe the arrogance of the PETA, formed sometime in the 1980s in the U.S.A. in appealing in the Supreme Court for banning Jallikattu. Of course, PETA has officials from India and people from Tamil Nadu know Ettappan who helped the British captureVeerapandia Kattabomman. Other NGOs have the arrogance to give a letter to the President demanding the duly elected state Government be dismissed. I think all the people involved in Jallikkattu should register a complaint in Police Stations charging PETA with disrespecting the sentiments of Tamil and disrespecting the culture that is several millennia old.¬† I have read about PETA capturing dogs and cats on the street in the USA and having permission to kill them from the Government if no one opts to adapt them (4). They really know ethical way of killing the animals. They want the streets to be free of animals. We grew up in streets that can be used by one and all. Our farmers know the ethical way of raising them for the whole life.

I had never known about Kaanum pongal when I grew up in Madurai. After traveling to Chennai (Madras), I learned that the fourth day is Kaanum Pongal, when farmers around Chennai come to the beech in Chennai and have a family outing. (Kaanum in Tamil means ‘what is seen’). According to the reference 2 given below, it is called Mukkanuma in Andhra Pradesh. I was indeed surprised that a Tamil growing in the heartland of Tamil (Madurai) did not know about Kaanum Pongal, celebrated in Chennai, the capitol of the state Tamil Nadu in independent India. But then, Mark Twain knew this. I am glad I traveled.

Some Tamils feel, it’s a conspiracy not only by the multinationals but also the politicians from North India (including our PM Modi) to root out Tamil culture. May be these are conspiracy theories and I don’t know the facts. However, I do know that Bhogi, Pongal and Maattu Pongal are in our culture and I am convinced that the animal lovers who oppose Jallikkattu have no clues about how to treat animals. Recently, Thiruvalluvar Thinam (Thiruvalluvar’s day) was added to the Pongal festival and it will be on January 17th. Like Dasara in Mysore, Dusshera in UP and Durga festival in Bengal, Christmas-New Year in many parts of the world, Pongal has become the long holiday season in Tamil Nadu. Any attempts to disrupt this by people outside the state, whether they are from the Central Government, Supreme Court, PETA, USA or UN, will eventually fail.

Happy Pongal to one and all and the Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Before I can wish the same to our PM Modi, he needs to do some thing about it. If not, with or without his help, Tamils will do it.

      1. https://earunan.org/2015/11/05/hinduism-is-not-a-way-of-life-hindus-celebrate-deepavali-on-different-days-and-yes-some-hindus-eat-beef/
      2. http://www.drikpanchang.com/festivals/pongal/bhogi-pandigai-date-time.html
      3. https://earunan.org/2015/04/11/learning-history-ii-and-happy-new-year/
      4. https://www.petakillsanimals.com/

Orange Mittai, Manjhi: the mountain man, and 108 Emergency services in India!

I had not written any serious movie reviews so far but wanted to write one after watching the Tamil movie titled ‘Orange Mittai’ in August 2015. ¬†A simple story very well shown on screen. I have enjoyed watching some of Vijay Sethupathi’s¬† earlier films (“Soothu kavvum” for example) and was keen to see this movie. I have rarely gone to movies alone and after a very long time, I watched this alone. As someone growing old, it is a good thing to learn. That happens to be the theme of the movie as well. It is about a father abandoned (Vijay Sethupathi) to live alone by his son. The hero of the movie is a paramedic working with 108 Emergency service ambulance. The father who lives alone, keeps calling the 108 service pretending to be ill. On one such call, the hero, Ramesh Thilak, shows up to help. The whole movie is about the interactions between these two men. Ramesh would have lost his father about a year ago. They both realize that it is easier to be a father of some one else’s son and son of some one else’s father. Let me not give the story here in case any of you are planning to watch it. It’s worth your time.

Another movie I watched in 2015 was Manjhi, the mountain man in Hindi. In this movie, Manjhi the hero is unable to take his wife to a hospital on time when she was ready to deliver their second kid. They live in a village in Bihar which is not connected by road. The villagers cross a hill on foot to catch a bus. Manjhi and a friend carry her on a blanket crossing the hill on foot. By the time they reach the hospital, she delivers a healthy baby and dies. No ambulance could reach them for help! Several Governments came and went and the village was not connected by a road. After his wife dies, Manjhi takes it as his life’s mission to build a road by himself breaking down the mountain with a hammer and chisel. He succeeds after 22 years! The Government made it a proper road in 2011, 30 years after he completes it and four years after he died. The road has been named after him recently.

I remembered both these movies this evening, as we had a talk by Dr. Sudhakar Varanasi, who headed the 108 Emergency services project in the initial stages of planning and implementation. ¬†He was one of the Vice-Presidents in Satyam Computers. His talk was arranged by the Al(l)chemis’s Society in IPC Department.¬†This was started as an ambitious project by Satyam Computers in (the united) Andhra Pradesh around 2005, when they had just become a billion dollar company. Dr. Sudhakar thought of the emergency services after one of his friends from the USA died in a road accident near Bangalore as an ambulance didn’t reach on time. The title of his talk today was ‘Working with head and heart aligned’. Though India had three phone numbers for calling police (100), fire service (101) and ambulance (102), we did not have one emergency number like the 911 in the USA and 112 in many parts of Europe. Dr. Sudhakar and team created 108 as an emergency number which can be used for police, fire or ambulance. With the old 100 number, there were very few lines and it was answered by the police directly. 108 is answered by trained professionals and they can attend thousands of calls simultaneously. Andhra Pradesh Government started financing the project soon and Gujarat followed it next. Now this service is available in more than 20 states all over the country. It appears that Delhi and West Bengal are yet to go for it. I was on a road trip in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala last week and I could see several 108 Ambulances on the road rushing to help.

Dr. Sudhakar has an interesting background. He did his MSc in Physics from IIT Kharagpur and a Ph. D. at the Molecular Biophysics Unit in IISc and followed it with postdoctoral work at the Aerospace Engineering Department. After serving in the Indian Institute of Science till 1990, he started his own software company and joined Satyam Computers later. Today he is a Chief Mentor at Emergent Institute in Bengaluru. It is interesting to think about the eventual success stories of Manjhi the Mountain Man and Dr. Sudhakar Varanasi! If a service like 108 was available 50 years ago and if every village in India was connected by road, there would have been no need for Manjhi the Mountain Man. In any case, irrespective of where you are and what your background is, if you decide to do something and have the patience and perseverance, it can be done.


In case you would like to know more about the three topics and AL(l)chemist’s Society, the following links would help.


2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manjhi_-_The_Mountain_Man

3. http://www.emergentinstitute.com/the-team-2/

4. http://ipc.iisc.ac.in/~alchemie/