Monday, January 19, 2009

Mattu Pongal - A Trip to the Village: Part 2

Our narrow road was surrounded by lush green rice paddy fields, each just a slightly different hue. Emerging into the village, these homes were mostly thatched huts interspersed with some simple concrete structures. Outside each coutyard entryway was one or several brightly colored kolams, each different than the others. One based its design on mirror symmetrical peacocks. Our Indian colleague pointed out that the kolams had been painted on a thin layer of cow dung, making a nice smooth surface. To my surprise, there was no smell. One farm couple sat outside their simple hut, creating special small palm leaf brooms as part of the special pooja for the day. Next to some freshly finished brooms were some simple farm tools, an offering, and pots likely used during Pongal. Declining their offer for something to drink, we thanked them and moved on. Admiring yet a few more kollams, we got in the car and moved onward.

Our final stop was also prompted by an elaborate kolam containing a multitude of Pongal symbols: clay pots, candlelit lamps, decorated cows eating bowls of rice, and a pumpkin blossom in the center. An illustration Asian-looking girl was on one side of the kolam, as if she was the one creating it. Quickly the inhabitants came out to greet us, followed by neighbors. The kolam creator showed us yet another massive kolam, this one in rice flower. One farmer was preparing his cow for decoration, carefully scrubbing the horns. A special necklace consisting of a thick black band, pink beads, and a small conch shell was tied on the cow’s forehead around its horns. It too had new ropes. Another cow was finishing its bath. The farmers proudly posed with their prized cows as we took their photo.

One resident gave us a tour of the family’s nearby fields. Here, watermelon vines dotted the reddish soil. Varieties of pumpkin and squash also were planted, along with bitter squash on canopy-like trellises. Our Indian colleague pointed out some local plants known for their medicinal properties and one that she had used to make mascara. One little pigtailed girl continued following us around, quickly warming up to us. She, like most of the other people we had seen today, was dressed her special occasion outfit, complete with matching necklace, earrings, bracelets and chain down the parting of her hair. When I commented on the John Deere tractor, she cheerfully climbed onto the seat and posed, pretending to drive.
Thanking our village hosts for the tour, we headed the 46 km back to Chennai. Although we weren’t present for the evening’s cow parades, I considered it a wonderful glimpse into the village version of the celebration of Mattu Pongal.

No comments: