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The Pongal Festival in Tamil Culture

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When looking in depth at the ritual of Pongal, gender roles are portrayed by what is seen to be ideal for a women and a man to do. In other words, gender is a socially constructed perspective that portrays what is expected of the behaviour, occupation or roles of men and women. Hence, women tend to be nurturing, gentle and sensitive. By looking at the harvest festival, women are seen to be conducting the household chores, such as cleaning and cooking. They conduct the work that is done repetitively and spend most of their time inside the house taking care of children, elders or livestock. As compared to the men, they are characterized as individuals who are strong, brave, independent, assertive and powerful. Thus, men’s labours are typically physically intensive. Men do the agricultural work of ploughing the land using the bulls. Since bulls are very strong and powerful, they can be associated with men who must use their strength and power to overtake and control the bulls. Therefore, men spend most of their time outside their homes on their land as they plough, collect milk from the other animals and get meat for the family. As a result, because of their physical labour and work, they aid to provide an income and a food source for the family.

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In addition, men are seen to be powerful individuals within their households indicating that Sri Lankan Tamils live in a patriarchal society. This was shown when the men had to sprinkle the uncooked rice around the pot’s neck. Since they are identified as the leaders, they are expected to be the first individuals who are to participate in the ritual before the other members of the family take part.

Therefore, when comparing men and women, this society portrays women to be subordinate. This is because women are seen to be weaker than men as they are expected to conduct work that is less physically intensive. From the men’s labour and work, women are able to utilize their efforts and supply food for the entire family. As a result, it demonstrates that even though their work is contrary to each other, both women and men aid to benefit and support their family on a daily basis.

In addition, through the symbolic actions done within “Pongal”, it helps to display Tamils’ worldview of their land. Worldview is the ideal of how reality is based upon the shared cultural assumptions of how one’s society works. Accordingly, the symbolic actions are the activities done within a group of people for which they have shared meanings for help to establish their worldview. The symbolic actions here include the drawing of the “kolam”, praying to the Sun and the “arathi” taken for the bull. Within these actions, Tamils are interacting with the land which illustrates the respect we give to our estate.

When creating the “kolam”, women must create it on the ground in front of their homes using the coloured rice. As a result, when they interact with the ground to create the design, they are able to build a connection to honour and welcome the Gods as well as to banish the evil spirits or what they call the “evil pollution” away from the home and land. This helps to create a purity in the house on an auspicious day when conducting a ritual.

When praying to the Sun, Tamils follow a position of lying face down with their forehead and hands touching the ground. Tamils believe that we have a third eye in our forehead which is the way we are able to connect to God. Thus, when we touch the land that Mother Nature created, it aids in building a relationship with the Gods in the sky as we pray.

The “arathi” to the bull helps to portray the worldview of how Tamils view the land. This is due to a story told about the creation of “Mattu Pongal” which is about the God of creation, Shiva, who told his bull, Basava, to go to Earth and tell the people to take an oil massage and bathe every day and eat once per month. However, Basava told the opposite – that people should eat every day and bathe once a month. Hence, this made Shiva angry and he banished Basava to live on Earth. As a result, Basava was required to plough the fields and help the people produce their crops which lead to an importance on bulls in the agricultural society Tamils live in. Therefore, this myth or tale helps to give people meaning to their experiences when using bulls. In addition, the myth also portrays that the people spend a lot of their time on their land to produce their crops. Hence, due to Shiva’s actions, the people are able to take care of their vegetation with more ease.

Therefore, “Pongal” is the day given to respect the environment that Tamils live in, from the Sun to the bull. It shows how our worldview on “Pongal” can be socially constructed to land we utilize. This is due to many Tamils spending time on the land for agricultural purposes, in order to provide a source of income and food for our families. Thus, Tamils associate land with the creation and sacrifice of utilities that all humans and animals acquire.

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Overall, “Pongal” is a harvest festival that helps individuals connect to nature physically and spiritually. The main focus of “Pongal” is to conduct a ritual for the Sun followed by a practice done the next day for bulls. Therefore, when looking at the overall custom of “Pongal”, it helps to explain Tamils’ society including gender roles for men and women and their worldview about the land. As a result, without the use of an anthropologist perspective, one would not be able to acquire this knowledge about different cultural practices. This view aids in people to learn how to appreciate other people based on their values and beliefs. Therefore, anthropologist helps to portray that the society one lives in is socially constructed with various meanings to help give an understanding to one’s life and culture. 

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