I REFER to the letter “Ponggal marks new year’ (NST, Jan 14). The writer had said it is a festival that is celebrated by all Tamil, irrespective of their religious background. This is questionable.
Ponggal is predominantly a Tamil festival and is celebrated in all places where Tamil are settled in large numbers. In its origin and character it is an agricultural festival observed by an agrarian community that cultivates paddy and other grains for its sustenance.
Although in Malaysia the Tamil community is not engaged in the production of food crops, yet the Ponggal tradition has been entrenched so deep in the Tamil society that the festival is celebrated by people of all economic groups.
Ponggal is the most elaboratively celebrated Hindu festival. In celebrating this festival, the Malaysian Tamil today tend to emphasise the cultural rather than the religious ritual aspects.
However, the festival has religious connotations and superstitious beliefs.
The highlight of Ponggal is the cooking of sugar, ghee, milk and rice from the newly harvested padi produce and cooked in newly bought earthen clay pots and utensils and offered in worship to the sun god or to the deity of the paddy field or the family deity. The boiling over of the milk and the direction the milk overflows has significant implications to the family.
There are three types of Ponggal celebrated by the Tamil - veetu (home) ponggal, kanni (virgin) ponggal and maatu (cow) ponggal which are celebrated over three days.
Veetu ponggal and maatu ponggal signify the expression of gratitude for the farming occupations to the sun, god and to the livestock (cattle) for the bountiful and fruitful harvests. Kanni ponggal is carried out by the unmarried woman to find a suitable partner.
In essence, it is a thanksgiving festival with much religious connotations. The practice involves the veneration of the sun, god and superstitious beliefs that are contrary to those who are not Hindus.
The Tamil are very religious people and every socio-cultural aspect of their lives is embedded in their religious beliefs.
Every Tamil movie to date begins with the veneration and offering to God. Religion plays a significant role in the lives of the Hindus. The Tamil New Year celebration also has Hindu religious rites and practices.
Although anyone is free to practice and celebrate what one believes, it is incorrect to say that Pongal and the Tamil New Year have no religious tags attached to it.
The writer has advocated that all Tamil should celebrate Ponggal as the Tamil New Year. But the bigger question is whether all Tamil (including Tamil Christians and Tamil Muslims) can celebrate Ponggal and the Tamil New Year.
Samuel Yesuiah, Seremban Negeri Sembilan NST Home Opinion 18 Jan 2015