There was a nuance of excitement mixed with eagerness in the minds of Kullappanaickanoor residents, when we started inviting each of them for the Arogya Pongal festival. For the past 3 years since its inauguration, Pongal has been celebrated in the Isha Rural Health Clinic campus. This year, we planned to celebrate Pongal, in a common place at the heart of the village.
The day started with Kolam (Rangoli) competition. We started our journey at 8:00 am in the morning to visit each house to judge the best kolam. We could see the interest and the energy of the village women decorating their house entrance with beautiful kolams, which were as big as the entire street. Many women began making their kolams at midnight and were completely involved in colouring them.
Out of the 57 women who participated, five were selected, with a tie for the first and second prizes. Apart from these, two special prizes were given, one for the participation of a five year old child and another for a 67 year old woman.
Arogya Pongal, a pongal with different grains was prepared to spread awareness about healthy alternatives to rice. The sifting of the grains was done by our village grannies in their traditional style.
After the sifting, Arogya Pongal was cooked by the village women. The Pongal was honoured with the traditional Kulavai sound and the chorus “Pongalo Pongal”. The pongal was cooked, then offered to the sun and to the people of the gathering.
At about 4pm in the afternoon, the volunteers went around the village and started the “Thandora” (using drums for message communication to the mass) - inviting people for the celebration, after which people started to gather near the venue. Various games were conducted, which drew much participation and encouraging applause from the crowd.
After the minor games, the highlight of the celebration started, which is traditionally known as “Uri Adithal”. Pots filled with water or ghee are hung from a scaffold and participants have to hit the pot with a long stick, while blindfolded. The challenge is that rope tied to the pot is often pulled out of reach by the other members of the group, leading to a fun-filled and joyous competition. Twenty people participated in the game that lasted more than an hour.
At 5:30 pm, the Karagattam team started the dance procession in the village, inviting the people for the culturals. After the procession, there was almost no one inside their houses and we found all the houses were locked, since they had all shifted to the venue for the culturals.
The dias had a pleasing appearance made with available materials that were gathered from the village. The culturals included varieties of folk dance, western dance, as well as Tamil folk forms, such as karagattam. The volunteers had trained the nearby government school children a week before, and all their performances were greeted by loud applause. The interesting thing to note that was that there was an enduring spirit in each of their faces though it was their very first performance in the midst of such a large gathering. Also the parents of the children were very happy to see their children onstage and their sharings were encouraging.
The programme had its highest applause when the folk team showcased their talent. Almost everyone near the dias were jumping and bouncing with energy equal to the team onstage. The entire audience were watching as if they had completely lost themselves in the performance.
Prizes were then distributed to the winners of the games conducted. Overall, the event included almost 600 people, from kids to elderly people. The programme concluded at 9 pm and the audience watched the entire programme with absolute stillness. The event had indeed spread a wave of love, light and laughter to the people of this rural area.