Saturday, January 15, 2011


 The moon is getting fuller
is setting in the West
and Orion is rising 

 and suddenly it is January the 14th and:


the harvest festival / thanksgiving / Erntedankfest

Pongal is a four day celebration in South India, beginning on the day of Makara-sankrānti, when the Sun enters Capricorn according to the Indian zodiac, on the 14th of January. Uttarāyana begins, i.e. the half of the year, when the rising point of the sun travels North. This is considered the auspicious half of the year, the day of the gods. The other one, Dakshināyana, the night of the gods, is inauspicious, because the sun moves South, which is considered the direction of death. It is the only Hindu festival that is celebrated according to the solar calendar.

Pongal means “boiling over”. The tradition is to boil rice in milk and let it boil over as a sign of abundance and celebration. This sweet dish, Pongal, is served especially on the second day of this celebration, with cashew nuts and raw sugar from sugar cane.

The first day, the 14th of January, is called Bhogi, enjoyer, and is dedicated to Indra, the Lord of the gods. Useless and old things are discarded and burnt on this day. A new life begins.  

The second day of the festival, 15th of January, is the most important one and is called Sūrya Pongal. Sūrya means the sun, and on this day special prayers are offered to the sun god Sūrya. In the morning one finds at the entrance of the houses especially elaborate Rangolis or kolam.
With this, people and gods are welcomed to enter the house. Often at the center of a Kolam is a lump of cow-dung and a five-petaled pumpkin flower, a symbol of fertility and an offering to the deity. The houses are cleaned and decorated, and people wear new clothes.

Examples of Rangolis depicting the various ingredients of Pongal -
and of course they have to be brightly colourful: 

Sugar cane sticks and offering

The pot boiling over, sugar cane right and left
and above the sun

and the detail, the offering of cow dung and the flower:


More Rangolis as a slide show:

The third day, 16th of January, is called Mattu Pongal, when the cows and Shiva’s bull are worshipped and decorated. Thus, the Rangolis today are focussing more on the cow:


The cow stands for the world, for wealth and food (milk, curd, ghee etc., not meat of course!). She is considered a form of Lakshmī, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, wife of Vishnu. This picture shows Gaja-Lakshmī, with an elefant (gaja) on either side, in the temple shrine dedicated to Ramana’s mother.

The cow gives us the panca-gavaya, the five substances from the cow, which are needed for the ritual worship of all deities: milk, curds, ghee (clarified butter), cow urine and cow dung.

Krishna, the 8th incarnation of Vishnu, is a cowherd and in this function he is known as Govinda or Gopāla, the one who gathers and protects the cows.

There is this picture of Krishna as Govinda with a cow in the cowshed of the Ramana Ashram:

This is one example how the two major branches of Hinduism, the worship of Shiva and Vishnu, are not opposites; they rather complement or complete each other. Thus in all temples you find representations of both deities though one is the predominant one. For example in the temple-shrine of Ramana’s mother there is an image of Narasimha, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu, where he kills a demon.

Dattātreya, the first Guru, a manifestation of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahmā (three heads), is always shown with a cow (the world) and four dogs (the four directions).

And Ramana himself is often seen with cows, which is quite common for all Gurus and Ashrams. Here are fotos of him with his cow Lakshmi.

The Samādhi shrine of Ramana’s cow Lakshmi is on the Ashram premises, and a special pūjā (ritual worship) was performed there today as well.

And of course the cows now living in the Ashram were worshipped and decorated as well:

More pictures in the slide show at the end.

According to a legend, Shiva once asked his bull to go to the earth and tell the people they should every day take a bath and have an oil massage and only eat once a month. The bull mixed it up and told everyone instead that they should eat daily and have a bath and an oil massage once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva and he banished his bull to live on the earth, ploughing the fields and helping people produce their food. Therefore today people also show their respect and gratitude to the bull, for without the bull humans could not have survived. Shiva’s curse therefore was a blessing too. Nothing is ever unambiguous in India!   

The decoration of Shiva's bull, Nandi, in front of the shrine of Ramana Maharshi's mother was appropriately spectacular, a feast for the eyes and a thanksgiving monument of abundance and gratitude. Looking from behind the Nandi into the shrine:

And looking back to Nandi, fully decorated:

More pictures as a slide show:

Now the moon is almost full -

and on Wednesday the 19th is Poornimā,
time for another pradakshina around Arunāchala.

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