A Bountiful Expression of Hindu Culture | Daily News

A Bountiful Expression of Hindu Culture

One of the most popular festivals in Hinduism is Pongal and is celebrated widely by the Tamil Community across the globe. Thai Pongal is a glorious festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion crystallized in the ancient Hindu texts. Love and peace are the central themes of Thai Pongal. Hindu religion believes in the existence of god (Ishvar) everywhere, as an all-pervasive, self-effulgent energy and consciousness. This basic belief creates the attitude of sublime tolerance and acceptance toward others. All living beings are the same, so there should be a sense of equality.   

As per the Tamil solar calendar, Pongal is celebrated in the Thai month. It is a four-day religious and cultural event that is dedicated to the Sun god. It also marks the beginning of Uttarayan, the journey of the radiant Sun northward. The term ‘Pongal’ is derived from the Tamil word which means ‘to boil'. Thai Pongal generally includes customs and celebrations that are the expression of jubilation over life's renewal. On Thai Pongal, the family begins the day early. Every member of the family gets up early in the morning, bathes, puts on new clothes and gathers in the front of the garden (muttram) to cook the traditional Pongal (rice pudding). The front garden is prepared for this ceremonious cooking. A flat square pitch is made and decorated with kolam drawings, and it is exposed to direct sunlight. Sunlight brings and sustains life. A fire wood hearth will be set up using three bricks. The cooking begins by placing a decorated clay pot with water on the hearth.

A senior member of the family conducts the cooking and the rest of the family dutifully assists him or her during this traditional cooking ritual. When the water has boiled the rice is put into the pot - after a member of the family ceremoniously puts three handfuls of rice in first. The other ingredients of this special dish are chakkarai (brown cane sugar) or katkandu (sugar candy), milk (cow's milk is the desired choice or coconut milk), roasted green gram (payaru), raisins, cashew nuts and few pods of cardamom. When the meal is ready it is first served on a banana leaf and the family prays for a few minutes to thank nature, the sun and farmers. Thai Pongal is an occasion for family reunions and get-togethers. Estrangements are healed and reconciliation effected. During the next few days all cattle, especially cows are duly venerated and treated to cooked food.

Hinduism calls itself the Sanatana Dharma, the eternal faith. It is based on the collective wisdom and inspiration of prudent sages from the very dawn of the great Indian civilization. In Sanskrit the term shanti is used for peace. The word’s literal meaning is peaceful, non-violent, calm or undisturbed. It wisely denotes abstention from mental and physical violence and disturbances. It is to bring the refusal of violent feelings from mind and violent activities from human life. Accordingly, shanti is a state of equilibrium which is needed for the proper existence of all and everyone in this universe.

The rishis who revealed the principles of divine law in Hindu scripture knew well the potential for human suffering and the path which could avert it. The Bhagavad Gita says “The mind is an enemy, to those who can’t control it”. Stillness of mind is needed to make wise decisions, to relate to others and be aware of one’s natural environment. Peace is a reflection of spiritual consciousness, and violence is a reflection of unevolved or base consciousness. Peace is the natural state of the mind. It is there, inside, to be discovered in meditation and then radiated out to others.

According to Holy Vedas, there is a prenatal harmony, natural link and celestial communion among all the souls. Hence the ancient Vedas instruct men not to despise one another. He who hates another, hates himself because he finds divine manifestation in both the souls connecting a common link between the two. That is why Vedas teach men to give up malice and hatred. A person who has no desire for a sense of gratification, who lives free of desires, who has given up all sense for controls and proprietorship, and is egoless, can alone attain ultimate peace. (Gita 2.71)

The first step towards detachment is to realize that we are the masters of our emotions, our desires and all our attachments. Detachment is not about having no emotions or desires, but having control over our emotions, actions and desires and being able to manage them. Detachment is not about shunning away from the responsibilities and duties that come with our birth and withdrawing from the world. It is about seeing and experiencing things as they truly are, without clinging on to anything. Renunciation (or detachment) is not getting rid of the things of this world, but accepting that they pass away.” Detachment is absolute freedom from compulsive emotional entanglements and focusing on our higher purpose. I conclude with a quote from Swami Vivekananda “Desire, ignorance and inequality - this is the trinity of bondage”. May we learn to rejuvenate our minds and aspire to live in peace. Let us awaken from within, and understand life’s higher purpose. Wishing you all a blessed Pongal.


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