Raising South Asian Voices

Cynthia Dettman:  Author

Pongal at the Law School

Recently I went to the law school’s Pongal celebration (a little early so students could enjoy their vacation next week).  Pongal is a four-day-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, which falls in the month of Thai (that is, the January-February season) when crops like rice, sugarcane, and turmeric are harvested. The term ‘pongal’ in Tamil means “to boil”, and this festival is celebrated as a thanksgiving ceremony for the year’s harvest.  Pongal is also the name of the sweetened rice that is cooked outdoors in a clay stove and shared with all during this celebration.

The ceremonies were punctuated by loud nagaswaram and drum music.  This traditional ensemble includes two-headed drums and a nasal-sounding oboe-like wind instrument.

Although this is a government university, religion is not prohibited at all!  In fact, religion is often encountered in public settings here in India.  Here, an altar has been created to gods and the directors and faculty of the law school take in the sacred smoke of the incense before everyone receives a taste of the pongal, sweetened rice, and salty garbanzo beans, traditional pongal foods.

Today’s celebration allowed law students to drop their black and white uniforms and come celebrate in traditional clothing with all their butterfly colors!  Women were decked out in full fashion in amazing silk saris, embroidered blouses, and wild color combinations.  It was a feast for the eyes.  And It was clear the students were enjoying showing off their garments and beauty to teach other- lots of smiling and selfie photos- and the men were equally handsome in traditional clothing as well.

We Americans are quite drab in comparison to these gorgeous women!

The young men were a little duller in their outfits, but handsome too!

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