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Pongal and Kanu Obseervances

From: Satyan, Nagu (MSMAIL) (
Date: Wed Jan 15 1997 - 11:39:05 PST

From: Satyan, Nagu on Wed, Jan 15, 1997 12:38 PM
Subject: Pongal and Kanu Obseervances
To: bhakti digest

Part of any Sri Vaishnavite celebration is preparing a big meal, 
reciting prayers, offering the food to God for his blessings and enjoy 
the sumptious meal!  Yesterday evening after my work schedule, we 
celebrated Pongal at home.  Since our only son is at college, it takes 
a lot of effort to get into the spirit.  However my mother compensates 
by taking about the traditional way of celebrations and evening 
identifying what items need to be prepared!  

As I was reading Smt. Indira Prativadi's posting, I too was reminded 
about my childhood in Bangalore  and the traditional pongal and kanu 
celebrations.  We used to cook the pongal in big vanga paanai, tie a 
string around it with alternating sugar cane and fresh manja kombu.  
On four sides of the vessel we would apply manjal and kunguman. When 
the milk and water overflowed, we would all shout the traditional 
rhyme "Pongalo Pongal".  My guess is all the elements used represent 
the crop abundant this time of the year.  When my son was young, I 
used a regular saucepan and tied a string using dried mana kombu and 
very very dry sugarcane from supermarket.  It is not the same but 
something to keep it going.

According to my mother the traditional food items for Pongal include 
saadam, paruppu, Aviyal, Thayir vadai (vs plain vadai for Bhogi), VeNN 
and sakkarai pongal, saathummadu etc.  In southern India since a lot 
of families are/were celebrate these festivals, it is easy to get into 
the spirits and enjoy the cultural aspects of the festivals akin to 
Christmas spirit here.  

So to keep up some traditions,  I did prepare a big meal yesterday, we 
recited Thiruppaavai and enjoyed the meal.  Today is Kanu and 
traditionally we would prepare five different types of rice--two 
pongals, rice, manjal rice and kungumam rice.  The whole family would ,
 in our backyard, one by one, offer the rices(s) in small ball shapes. 
 I do not know why--my mother would, ask us to say "kaakakum 
kuruvikkum kalyaanam".  As robots all of us would do that.  She would 
do karpoora aarathi and we would all do namskarams (sEvippOm).   Then 
she would take us to her parents house  and she would do the same.  
Her brothers would give her a kanu gift (similar to Raakhi in Northern 
India).  Being raised in Bangalore, we followed traditional "yeLLu 
beeradhu", making shapes from pure sugar, roasted white sesame mixed 
with peanuts, jaggery and copra (dried cocoanut).  Along with that 
would be karumbu, a blouse piece, comb etc depending on the families 

My mother grew up In Kanchipuram in her grandparents home.  During her 
childhood, they would go to a field and place the colored rice.  Again,
 I believe it is to offer thanks to the harvest using the elements 
representative of the season. My husband's family also follows Kanu 
even today.  He sends his token gift to all his six sisters and since 
I do not have a brother I do it for all my five younger sisters. We 
still continue with the placing of colored rice and this evening we 
will be doing it.  Ofcourse, this time of the year (winter) it is rare 
to see any bird flying over our house.

My understanding is that way way back, around this time the families 
would have harvested big crops and celebrate it  by sharing it with 
family members.  In fact, the cows would be dressed up with colored 
aprons, garlands, etc and worshipped.  In the evening the cows would 
walk over fire.  This to remove evil eyes effect and ensure that the 
cows continue to produce milk in large quantities and bulls stay 
healthy to plough the land.    I am not sure how much these are still 
followed in families.

Re Sri Anand's question about Sri Vaishnavite specialities, and Sri 
Sundar's response, high on this list should be sakkarai pongal and 
Thirukannan amadhu.

I hope someone in this group will shed some light into the rationale 
behind sone of the symbolic observances.