Mauritius celebrates Thai Pongal in style
The Tamil harvest celebration of Thai Pongal is the first of the year’s religious festivals and celebrated by Tamils worldwide, including those in Mauritius. As a solar event – marking the entrance of the sun into the Capricorn zodiac constellation – it is one of the few Indian festivals to fall on the same date every year: 14 January. All across the Indian sub-continent and wider South Asia, the festival is celebrated with much fervour although with different names and rituals in different regions.
This three-day occasion of thanksgiving is ushered in by the sound of drums, bells and conch shells ringing out in Hindu temples, and marked by an offering of food to the gods. The first day of the festival, Bhogi, is celebrated by getting rid of old clothes and possessions as a way of symbolising the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Bonfires are often lit as a way to discard no-longer wanted items, and houses are spring cleaned and festively decorated.
Gratitude and gifts
The second day, known as Pongal, is when devotees cook rice with fresh milk, mung beans and jaggery (a form of dark brown sugar) in a new earthenware pot until it boils over, as a representation of prosperity, good fortune and material wealth. Freshly prepared Pongal is then offered to the sun god in gratitude for a healthy harvest, with the surplus served on banana leaves to family and friends, alongside traditional savouries and sweets like vada (a South Indian fried snack made from lentils, potatoes and onions) or kheer (a type of rice pudding made for special occasions).
The final day is known as Kaanum Pongal and is traditionally a time of family reunions and get togethers. Some landlords and business owners also give gifts of food, money and clothes to their tenants and employees.