Farmers invest their time, money, and everlasting efforts in their farmlands to grow healthy high-yielding crops and they eagerly look forward to the harvesting season. They regard every harvest as a sign of prosperity as they reap the benefits only at the time of harvesting. So farmers here celebrate the harvest festival, Pongal, for 4 days with fun & fervour. They thank the Sun, earth & also the animals that helped them blessed with abundance by offering pongal to Sun God, and also by treating their cows, bulls & other domstic animals including elephants with sugarcane, banana, sweet pongal, etc.
The year 2020 has made us all stronger physically, emotionally & spiritually and also made us richer by unique experiences. We have learnt many invaluable life lessons that would guide us sail through even the difficult phase of our life. Now I feel it is appropriate to follow our traditional way of celebrating New Year with sumptuous repast of various flavours like sweet, bitter, pungent etc. This tradition encourages us to accept and adapt to every season, every flavour and every change in our life gracefully.
Pongal, a harvest festival, is celebrated here to thank the Sun God. Sun is regarded as the creator and sustainer of life on earth, and worshipping the Sun is an age-old practice still followed in India. We could find several hymns praising the Sun god in our scriptures and also several temples enshrining the Sun god (Surya) as the primary deity across India. Suryanaar temple is one of the Sun temples in south India (Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu) where wheat pongal is offered to the supreme deity, Sun God. So we can also prepare wheat pongal instead of rice pongal and offer to Sun God on this Pongal festival.
It is a new year and a new decade, and I begin to ponder about the ancient Indian philosophy that advocates the exemplary qualities for individuals that are still relevant even in this decade. Our ancient scriptures proposed a rajasic way of life for kings (as the protector of people) and a sattvic way of life for commoners. It may lead to an undesired outcome if a king adopts sattvic methods or the commoners follow rajasic practices. The rajasic qualities are tenacious, self-driven, energetic & trendy, whereas the sattvic qualities are natural, pure, calm, creative & virtuous.
Prasadham (food offerings) served in Hindu temples are generally prepared to please the palates of devotees. But there are some exceptions, it is also served for the sole purpose of cleansing the souls of pilgrims in sacred temples like Puri Jagannath Temple. It is believed that one can attain moksha (salvation from sins/ rebirth) by partaking the prasadam offered in this temple, hence the offerings in here are known as Mahaprasad (supreme offerings). Chhena Poda is one such Mahaprasad prepared in this temple kitchen, the largest in the world.
We celebrate a plethora of festivals between August & November every year. Every festival is celebrated distinctively in various regions across India. It is quite astonishing to find how the cuisine, culture, and customs vary from one region to other within our country. Kosambari is a traditional lentil salad popular in South India (particularly in Andhra, Karnataka and some parts of Tamilnadu) with little variations. This salad is offered to deities in this festive season and also served to guests at the wedding banquets or festive gatherings.
Sweet pongal, popularly known as sakkarai pongal, is one of the most common neivedyam (food offering to deities) prepared not only in temple kitchens but also at our homes. We find sakkarai pongal as one of the most delightful prasadams served almost in all the Hindu temples in South India. So I set this prasadam as the benchmark for my sakkarai pongal, then I tried various methods to perfect the recipe for the same and finally succeeded to my heart’s content.
Panchamirtham is the sacred fruit salad offered as neivedyam to deities at home, and also used for abishegam (bathing deities) in Hindu temples across Tamilnadu. The most renowned Palani panchamirtham is prepared using unique bananas that are exclusively grown near Palani hills. It is offered to Lord Muruga in Palani temple and also to devotees as prasadam. You can check out this video to see how panchamirtham abishegam is performed to the deity in a temple.
Aval puttu is a traditional sweet prepared using beaten rice mainly for Chithirai Vishu (Tamil New Year). We usually offer this sweet dish to the deities at home as neivedyam during festivals especially Chithirai Vishu and also serve as prasadam during Navarathri. Beaten rice (rice flakes) is easily digestible, and the gluten in rice is reduced to a large extent when beaten. So we can also serve aval puttu as a light healthy snack on other days.