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Tamilnadu Festivals Pongal

India shares a common heritage with her people. The people of Tamil Nadu as those all over the country, celebrate victory of good over evil, the birth of all the gods of the Hindu pantheon, the onset of new seasons and, of course, functions within the family rejoicing over marriages and births. The variations however occur in the manner of celebration and the time for most festivals in India are timed for past harvest periods.

In Tamil Nadu the main harvest takes place on January 16 and it is the main festival of the people of this state. Pongal festivities begin days prior to the actual festival as new clothes are bought, houses cleaned out and even new pots and pans acquired. The actual festival generally falls on the 14th of January. On this day a dish called pongal is cooked with the new grain and jaggery. In fact, as friends and relatives greet each other on this day, they ask, “Ponga pane pongitha?” or did the pongal boil over? The excitement of an overflowing pot is considered to be a sure of sign of a prosperous future. The day previous to this is celebrated as Bogi and the day following is devoted to the celebration of the love between brothers and sisters while the fourth day is devoted to the worship of cattle.

Pongal occurs in one of the most beautiful months in Tamil Nadu. This month in the Tamil calendar is called tai. People wake up early in the morning and even before the sun has hopped out of bed, start singing a verse called the Thirupavai. Every temple and almost every household follows this tradition. Some get so carried away that they even start playing the populist film songs early in the morning! It is the spirit that matters.

Even while the hangover of this festival of the masses is still lingering on, a small village called Tiruvayyaru is getting ready for a major event. Here a story is waiting to be told. Tiruvayyaru, sits on the banks of one of Tamil Nadu’s major and holy rivers, the Kaveri. Here in the late 18th century lived a saint by the name of Thyagaraja. Such a devotee of Lord Rama was he that he composed many songs in praise of his Lord. These songs are the backbone of Carnatic music, the classical music form of Southern India. Till today, every year, people from all over India gather here to pay respects to the saint and sing his compositions.

The panorama of Tamil Nadu is dotted with temples, some powerful and rich, some in slow states of ruination. Yet all of them have a thiruvizha where they take their ruling deity out through the village or town and sing and dance his praise. The thiruvizhas are grand and lavish with near total participation of the local people. Huge processions walk the major parts of the town. Shops are laid out, entertainment programmes organized and people turn out in their fineries each day of the celebration.

Brahmotsavam in Madurai is one such major festival celebrated at one of the most beautiful temples of Tamil Nadu, the Meenakshi Temple. Chaitra Purnamasi is another, later in the year, celebrated at a place called Kanchipuram. Bhadrakali Amman temple near Pondicherry celebrates this as a 11 day festival in May-June, followed by celebrations at the Srimoolanadhar temple close by. Mangani Tiruvizha or Karaikal Ammayiar Festival is also celebrated in the same region. All these festivals have interesting legends associated with them. Like this one at Karaikal is also called the Mango Festival for it is believed that here lived a pious lady who, due to her piety, could call for a mango from the heavens. It is her praise that is sung during this period. Guruvayur Festival celebrates this annual event in October – November, while Kapaleswar temple waits till the new year. So a whole year in this state could be spent just moving from one temple festival to another.

Velanganni is a famous church in Tamil Nadu, just as Nagur has a famous mosque. All events in these two shrines are attended by people of all religions in Tamil Nadu.

The Tamil New Year is celebrated on April 13th. One interesting festival is called Kavero Rover festival. At this time thousands of people throng to the shores of the river which floods it at this time As they watch the water flowing in, they eat the mixed rice they have brought along and sit by the banks chatting and socializing.

Another festival when many people get together is called Mahamagam. In Kumbakonam, legend has it that every year all Gods headed by Brahma come for a dip in the waters of this tank. This is because once several rivers went to lord Shiva and complained that sinners washed their sins off in them. What would happen to them? Shiva advised the rivers to bathe in Kumbakonam during Mahamagam so that not only would their sins be washed away, but the sinners would not leave behind any residue to contaminate the river.

As for the rest, there are festivals like Diwali and Dusshera, Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi which are common to all Indians. The uniqueness of the people of Tamil Nadu lies in their penchant for taking the Lords out for a drive annually.

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