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Makar Sankranti - Pongal - Lohri

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PONGAL:

Pongal - The four day harvest festival of Tamil Nadu

Pongal is the first festival beginning off each new year in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. As the dates for this festival are calculated by the solar calander, the dates of January 13-16 never change. Each day of this festival has a special significance. However, it is celebrated grandly in the villages, while the city folk mainly celebrate on the second day only.

The first day of the festival is called Bhogi. All people clean out their homes from top to bottom, and collect all unwanted goods. In the evening, people will light bonfires and burn what can be burnt.

The second day of the festival, Surya Pongal, is the day on which the celebrations actually begins, is the first day of the Tamil month Thai. On this day, Surya, the sun God is worshipped and women will wake early on this day to create elaborate kolum on the grounds in front of their doorway or home. Kolums are created with colored rice flour placed on the ground carefully by using one's hand. It takes several hours to finish kolum. All people will wear new clothes and use the new utensils or household items which replace the ones discarded the previous day. On this day the new rice is collected and cooked in pots until they over flow. It is this overflowing which means Pongal. This overflowing of rice is a joyous occasion, and the children and adults as well will shout out 'Pongal-o Pongal!' Children will dance and make music to the tune of these words. It is an expression of happiness that the new harvest is here and we should enjoy it! The rice is cooked and prepared as a dish called Pongal, which is rice with lentils and sugar. This Pongal variety is called venpongal, ven meaning white. Another variety is also prepared with lentils and jaggery (sweet), called chakra1pongal, chakrai meaning sweet. To accompany the venpongal, people eat brinjal (eggplant) sambar (stew), vadai, idli, and spicy accompaniments.

The third day is called Maatu Pongal, maatu meaning cattle. This day is devoted to paying homage to cattle. Cows and Bulls are decorated with paint and bells and people pray to them.

The fourth day is termed as Kaanum Pongal. On this day, people travel to see other family members. On this day, the younger members of the family pay homage to the elders, and the elders thank them by giving token money (like Rs. 10 or US 25cents). Another thing many do is leave food out on banana leaves for birds to take. Some also go to temple.

RECIPES:

Sweet or Sarkkaral Pongal
Ingredients :

Rice- 1 cups
Condensed milk or milk - tin condensed or 2 litres milk
Jaggery- 50-75 gm
Cloves (powdered)- 3
Cardamoms (powdered)-3
Ghee or butter- 2 tbs
Cashew nuts (chopped)-1 tbs
Almonds (chopped)-1 tbs
Raisins (chopped)-1 tbs
Method of Preparation :

Fry cashew, almonds and raisins in ghee till light brown. Keep aside. Cook rice in water till the rice turns soft and strain the excess water. Add jaggery and condensed milk to the cooked rice, and keep on a low flame. Cook until it turns dry with constant stirring. Add cardamom and clove powder and mix well. Sprinkle fried nuts and raisins.

Variation: Pongal can also be prepared by cooking rice and moong dal (1/4 cup) in 2 litres of milk. When the rice and dal are cooked to softness, jaggery (1 1/2 cup) and ghee (2 tbsp) can be added. Cook for sometime on medium flame and add chopped cashew nuts, almonds, cardamom powder (1 tsp), nutmeg powder (1/4 tsp), saffron (1/4 tsp) and lastly the raisins. Serve after one or two boils.

Ven Pongal
Ingredients :

Raw rice - 1 cup
Green gram dal - 1/3 cup
Ghee - 2 tbs
Black pepper - 11/2 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Salt - as required
Water - 5 cups
Broken cashew nuts - 1 tbs
Finely cut ginger- 1 tbs (optional)
Curry leaves - few
Milk - 1/2cup
Method of Preparation:

Wash rice and dal and cook them well together in five cups of water. Add salt, curry leaves, ginger and green chillies, with half a cup of milk. Simmer for a minute and remove from fire.

Fry cashew nuts, pepper and cumin seeds in ghee. Pour this over the rice- dal mixture, mix well and serve steaming hot with ghee on top.