I had been staying in an Eco-village in Southern India called Auroville for a few weeks. Every morning I would wake up early to the sound of Bollywood music blaring from villages that dotted the area. It seemed like they were in a serious competition to drown the other party out with their music. The loud music was all leading up to the festival of Pongal. The third morning of celebrations I helped out in a local kitchen preparing food for the festival. Pongal was also the name of the main dish for the celebrations made with a local grain, sweet spices, and tons of ghee. It is delicious. The name of the festival comes from making of this special dish where the milk is boiled over and everyone exclaims “Ponggalo Ponggal” for good luck. I still don’t know why it is good luck by I will take the chef’s word on it.
Before the grand part of the festival I jumped on a truck bed and headed for the festival area. The red dirt streets were packed with people; there were vendors selling sweets and cheap trinkets for kids. I walked through the neighborhood to find a good place to watch the deity statue float by and noticed practically every house had a colorful kolam in front of the entrance. What I wasn’t expecting were the brightly colored bulls covered with bananas and flowers. In Tamil I was told to go back by a group of teenagers who were standing in front of me. Cautiously I heeded their words. All of a sudden the bulls were off running down the road stirring red dust into the air and a shower of small bananas poured down onto the crowd. After a few seconds of shock I began to scramble for bananas and throw them every which way as I tried to avoid the projectiles headed at me. The festival is exhilarating and fun, if not a little bit frightening the first couple of minutes of not knowing what to expect. After the excitement died down many people headed down to the beach to relax and spend time with friends and family.
Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated for 4 days near the middle of January in Southern Indian. The festival is celebrated differently in all areas of Tamil Nadu and not every village has a banana fight or a bull cart races. More mild versions are parade like, but wherever you go expect to have fun.