Elders in our families are unable to withstand to watch the children blowing out candles on their birthday as lighting up lamps is considered auspicious here and it symbolizes brightening up the people’s lives. Earlier traditional lamps (kuthu vilakku) were treated as supreme deities at home, but statues & pictures gradually gained the special status rather than those lamps. Nowadays we gift lamps to our friends & relatives for wedding or for house-warming ceremony wishing them happy & prosperous life. We also prepare edible lamps & light them during Thirukarthigai festival.
Whenever I heard the word payasam, I was visualizing jaggery payasam (made using rice & lentil) aka anna payasam during my childhood days. It was a delicious staple dessert prepared in our family whether to treat our guests, or ourselves on our birthdays/ festivals, or simply to offer to deities at home on Fridays. However we gradually switched to other payasam made of rice adai, vermicelli (semiya), tapioca pearls (javvarisi), jackfruits, etc. Nevertheless we still follow the tradition of feeding the traditional anna payasam to babies in front of the deities at home or in a temple when solid foods are introduced to them for the first time.
Turmeric rhizomes are inextricably intertwined with our culture & traditions. We perform all our religious rituals only in the presence of turmeric in the form of turmeric powder, kumkum, turmeric pillaiyar, or turmeric thread. We regard turmeric smeared thread as the sacred thread as our family ties are religiously acknowledged only by tying a sacred thread. Turmeric thread is usually tied around the wrist or neck (only for the wife) as a wedding ritual in the presence of priests, other elders and also in front of the deities. Women observe fasting on the day they get married until the sacred thread is tied around her neck. They also observe fasting on the day of Karadaiyan nombu, perform pooja after tying turmeric thread and end their fasting by taking karadaiyan nombu adai.
Pongal is the harvest festival celebrated in Tamilnadu by worshiping Sun & earth to express our gratitude for the entire year’s harvests. On this day we still follow the traditional method of cooking rice in brass, stainless steel or earthen pots. We decorate the Pongal Paanai (pot) with kolam drawn using rice flour & turmeric powder and tie the ginger or turmeric sprouts around its neck. Pongal means boiling over, it signifies prosperity & abundance, and hence it is considered auspicious to have boiled over while cooking pongal. We use Pongal paanai rather than electric cooker or pressure cooker as spilling over happens only when cooking pongal in pot.
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.