Steeped in tradition
Thursday January 15, 2009
By K.KASTURI DEWI
The Star Online
SOME 300 devotees gathered at the Sri Veerakaliamman Devasthanam temple in Sungai Gelugor, Penang, all garbed in colourful new sarees, Punjabi suits, silk dhotis and anxiously waited for the milk in two brightly decorated claypots to boil over.
As soon as this happened, elderly women in the group cried out: Ponggalo Ponggal! Ponggalo Ponggal! while a temple assistant blew the sangu (conch) to announce to everyone present that the year ahead would be blessed with good tidings.
Devotees then turned their faces to the sun, clasped their palms together and offered prayers to thank the Sun God for a bountiful harvest and another profitable year.
Temple chairman M.K. Samy said the Ponggal celebration had been held at the temple since 1975.
“Devotees who are living in Bukit Gelugor, Minden Heights, Bukit Gelugor and even Bayan Baru attend the Ponggal celebration at the temple,’’ he said.
Samy said devotees got together to cook ven(milk) ponggal and sakkre(brown sugar) ponggal at 10am.
“Two new claypots were each placed on top of three bricks in front of the temple entrance, before the firewood was lit.
“Young sugarcane stalks were also tied to form a triangle over the pots signifying a sweet start for the festival.
“About 20 minutes later when the milk in the pots boiled and flowed over, the devotees cried out Ponggalo, Ponggal,’’ he said.
Temple chief priest M.S. Thyagarajan and his assistant Murugan Gurukkal oversaw the whole process of cooking the ponggal.
Rice, brown sugar, raisins, cashew nuts and ghee were added into one of the pots to make sakkre(brown sugar) ponggal while only rice was added into the second pot to make the ven(milk) ponggal.
The main entrance of the temple was also decorated with colourful kolam drawings and young sugarcane tied at both sides of the main temple door.
Samy said a special pooja (prayer) was offered to Lord Ganesha before the start of the Ponggal Festival to seek blessings and protection.
“The overflowing of the milk in the pot symbolises prosperity, peace and happiness for all,’’ he said.
After the milk had boiled over, prayers were offered to the Goddess Veerakaliamman before devotees were served with both types of the ponggal rice.
Malaysian Indians nationwide celebrated the festival which usually falls on the 10th month of the Tamil calendar as a thanksgiving for bountiful harvest and a good year by holding special prayers at home and temples.
The second day of Ponggal is known as Mattu (cow) Ponggal where cows are honoured, given baths and garlanded as cows are sacred animals for the Hindus.
The third day is known as the Kanni (young maidens) Ponggal where back in the olden days, young unmarried girls were encouraged to come out of their homes dressed in their finery to attend a celebration while young men were invited to view their prospective brides.