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That’s a moveable feast

india Updated: Jan 15, 2009 20:38 IST
Chesta Wadhwani

Chesta Wadhwani celebrates Pongal with homemaker Sudha Iyengar...

Yesterday was Pongal.. today is Maattu Pongal. The Tamilian New Year is celebrated with this harvest festival. It is an expression of gratitude to the Sun God and the farmers who bring fresh green vegetables to the table.

Resplendent in the traditional pattupodavai (silk sari with zari border),

Sudha Iyengar welcomes you to her Chembur home and explains the significance of Maattu Pongal: “The farmers worship bullock on this day. The animals are painted in bright colours, their horns are decorated and garland put around their necks. It’s one way of thanking the animals who plough the fields through the year.”

Sweet and salty
Sudha is kept busy in the kitchen making Chakra Pongal, a dish of rice, jaggery and milk, topped with dollops of ghee. The other favourite is Ben Pongal, a rice that’s salty and spicy.

Vinita, Sudha’s daughter, is draped in a colourful half-sari called Davani. She relishes the steaming rasam to which a variety of fresh vegetables like yellow and red pumpkin, papdi (flat beans) and turai (witchgourd) have been added.

Originally from Trichy in Tamil Nadu, the Iyengars, relish serving paysam, a dessert made from rice, cardamom, raisins and cashew-nuts, is another irresistible temptation.

Pot of gold
Ghee is generously added to every dish. The meal is served on vazhuelai (banana leaves) to the men first, then the children and finally, the women.

The cooking utensil — a large pot painted a bright gold — is symbolically placed on the gas oven. A garland of yellow flowers and vegetables is draped around its neck.

A long stalk of sugarcane is placed in the kitchen or where the family congregates for the traditional meal. A rangoli bedecked with flowers and trees incorporated in the design, greets visitors.

“In the villages, farmers come together during Pongal to prepare meals in the open air with all things natural,” says Iyengar. “Earthen pots are used for cooking. Shlokas are chanted, followed by an exchange of greetings and finally then the food is served.”