Giving thanks during the Ponggal festival

By Jude Toyat
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@judetbpseeds

The dance troupe from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Malaysia (Kuching Branch).

The dance troupe from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Malaysia (Kuching Branch).

For as long as people have been planting and gathering food, there has always been some form of harvest festival being celebrated worldwide.

One of them is known as the Ponggal Festival, a four-day long harvest festival celebrated by the Indian community and considered one of the most important Hindu festivals of the year.

A festival of thanksgiving, Ponggal which originates from India takes its name from the Tamil word meaning “to boil”. It is usually held during ‘Thai’ which spans from January to February during the season when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane and turmeric are harvested.

In Sarawak, the Ponggal Festival was held grandly at the Kuching Waterfront on January 17.

Patron of Hindu Sangam Sarawak State Council patron Siva Kumar G delivering his speech during the festival.

Patron of Hindu Sangam Sarawak State Council patron Siva Kumar G delivering his speech during the festival.

Held for the second time, the harvest festival organised by the Malaysia Hindu Sangam Sarawak State Council saw a total of 108 participants dressed in their traditional costumes participating in the event. One of them was Jayanthi Verapah.

“Similar to Gawai, the Ponggal Festival is very important to our community as it signifies happiness, prosperity and fortune for the year to come. It is a wonderful tradition that has been practiced for generations in India and other parts of the world.

“It is also to respect the act of agriculture, giving thanks to the Sun God that has provided us with proper rain and sun which has resulted in proper harvesting and that is why we practice Ponggal,” said the 39-year-old mother of two from Kuching.

Jayanthi Verapah with her two children.

Jayanthi Verapah with her two children.

“Usually during the Ponggal festival, which is normally celebrated from January 15 every year, we will clean our houses and perform prayers at home in the early morning around 6am,” she added.

“After that, we will boil claypots that contain sweet rice, sugars of different kind of sweetness and taste, ghee and fresh milk. Later on, we will offer it to the Sun God by performing prayers followed by the feast.”

Other activities usually being held during the Ponggal festival include cultural performances.

“There is also the game of breaking of pots that we will tie above our head and we need to hit it correctly to earn prizes. Apart from that, we also have a game that requires us to apply grease on poles and get people to climb those poles and receive cash prizes,” she added.

Fatimah joining in the Ponggal gallery accompanied by Siva (on her right).

Fatimah joining in the Ponggal gallery accompanied by Siva (on her right) watching food being prepared in claypots.

She pointed out that after the Ponggal festival, the Indian community will then celebrate another important festival known as Thaipusam on January 24.

The Ponggal Festival being held at Kuching Waterfront saw an encouraging response from people of all walks of life, all eager to taste the food being prepared from the claypots.

“Ponggal has come to the shores of Sarawak in such a grand way and what better way to see people from all walks of life and members of the other communities coming together, irrespective of race and religion to celebrate a Tamil way of thanksgiving.

Fatimah being served sweet rice.

Fatimah being served sweet rice.

“This is what Ponggal is all about, giving thanks and offering our kindness and gratitude towards Mother Nature,” said Malaysia Hindu Sangam Sarawak State Council patron Siva Kumar G, adding that the festival was mostly being celebrated in Peninsular Malaysia.

Siva added that it was high time for the festival to be made even merrier in the state.

“We would like to bring this festival to a higher level and organise it in a more elaborate way. We are planning for it to be held for two days and our target is to be able to gather a total of 1,008 pots of Ponggal to be made during the third Ponggal festival here in 2017.

“Our next aim is to enter the Malaysian Book of Records for having the most number of pots being made during the festival. I would also like to see the Malaysia Hindu Sangam here do more great things in the years to come,” he added.

Fatimah with a talented young performer at the festival.

Fatimah with a talented young performer at the festival.

Also attending the festival were Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Malaysia (Kuching Branch) president Kripa Sindhu Krishna Das, Malaysian Hindu Sangam Sarawak State Council patron Siva Kumar G, SUPP Women’s chief Datin Jennifer William, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple (SMMT) Batu Lintang president Penghulu Komurusamy, Sarawak Indian Women Association president Kapitan Lucy Lingam, SUPP Batu Lintang Branch chairman Sih Hua Tong, Sara Urusharta Sdn Bhd general manager Alan Poh, and Association of Churches Sarawak (ACS) secretary-general Ambrose Linang.

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