Mrs. Gita on religious practices


Brahmin, married with children living at home. This woman did not keep a diary.

Festivals recorded included Pongal, Mattu Pongal, Tamil New Year’s Day, Deepavali, Vinayaka Chathurthi and Dassera

1. Pongal

This is the most important la all festival of the Tamil-speaking peoples, especially the agriculturalists. This falls in the month of January every year, which corresponds to the month of ‘Thai’ in the Tamil calendar. It is about the time when harvest would have been over and every household in villages will be full of all the essential grains

The sun which is revered is worshipped on this day. It is recognised by everyone that it is the sun which is responsible for all the life on earth. Rice is boiled in new mud pots and mixed with milk and jaggery. This mixture called PONGAL, a sweet preparation out of the newly harvested crop, is offered to the SUN GOD along with sugar cane, bananas, etc. New clothes are also purchased for everyone in the family of the eve of this festival and worn on this auspicious day. For the newly-weds, the first PONGAL day is [one] of special rejoicing.

In the village the whole family gathers together and celebrates the festival. The rich among the farmers will give gifts to their workmen by way of new clothes, cash, paddy etc. the whole village will bear a festive look. The occasion is one of thanksgiving to all the forces of nature for what good they have done to the humans and pleading before [for] them to continue to render help.

In urban areas, every household celebrates this festival without much of the fanfare and significance attached to it by the agricultural folks in villages. Greetings are exchanged on this day.

2. Mattu-Pongal

This festival falls on the day following ‘PONGAL’, CATTLE WEALTH is so very important to the agricultural community. ‘MADU’ in Tamil means the cattle. It is a festival more intended for the well-being of the cattle and a demonstration of man’s recognition and indebtedness to the cattle which work with him in raising bountiful crops from the Mother-earth.

On this day, the cattle are washed and decorated according to each owner’s means. With garlands around their necks, the cattle are paraded round the village. They are all fed on this day and given complete rest.

In cities the milkman brings his decorated cow and extracts gifts from the family which is [usually] supplied with milk from that cow. The housewife also feeds the cow fondly with bananas, sugarcane and cooked rice. 

3. Tamil New Year’s Day

This usually falls in the month of April each year. The celebration is held for the Tamil new year with exchange of greetings. There will not be as much of that gaiety seen all over as during PONGAL OR DEEPAVALLI

The special preparation of the day which is looked forward to most joyously by the children and menfolk is what is known as POLI. The dough, made of sweetened Bengal gram, is spread between two layers of wheat flour and fried in ghee. It is such a delight that all the trouble of the housewife is worth taking to please the family. The preparation is also distributed among relatives and friends in the neighbourhood and goes a long way in strengthening mutual good will and regard to each other.

The inspiration for celebrating this festival comes out of the natural desire of mankind for anything new in preference to the old. Before devouring this special preparation of the day it is as usual offered to the Gods first seeking their blessings for prosperity in the family during the ensuing year.

4. Deepavali

This festival is the one which is more conspicuous in urban areas than in villages. It is celebrated with more gaiety in the north India than in the south. The children look forward to this day for donning new clothes and [letting off] fire crackers. It is supposed to be a day when the evil demon was supposed to have been annihilated by God for the salvation of mankind. An oil bath is the first ritual of the day followed by the wearing of new clothes and worshipping the Gods, seeking their blessings for all prosperity in the family. Greetings are also exchanged [with others] together with varieties of sweets either homemade or bought from shops. It is a day of merry-making and some extravagant spending also.

This festival gains (has) special importance to the newly weds. The first Deepavali after marriage bring the bridegroom into the midst of the bride’s family and there is all round merriment with new clothes and choicest dishes for everyone. The non-vegetarians will not be content unless dishes of meat, fish, chicken etc. are prepared and served at home. Guests are also invited on this day. The greedy among the in-laws take this opportunity to extract gifts from the bride’s parents. It is customary among Hindus to send special gifts from the bride’s house to the groom’s house on occasions like Pongal and Deepavalli but only once after marriage. This is in addition to what the bride brings by way of dowry and gifts on the day she enters her husband’s family. The items and varieties that the bride carries with her are a subject matter for either praise or ridicule throughout the married life of the couple. It either makes or mars their married life depending on the mental make-up of the groom and his parents.

5. Vinayaga Chathurthi 

Among the Tamils it is one of those festivals celebrated with religious fervour and utmost reverence. His blessings are most sought after by everyone in daily life. The elder of the two sons of LORD SIVA and PARVATHI is called by several names, such as LORD GANESA, VINAYAKA etc. He is thought of before commencement of any work and by so doing it is believed that success is assured. Even in temples, the first one to be worshipped on entering is GANESA, the God with the face of an elephant.

On this day of the festival some time in August, an idol of VINAYAGA made of clay is brought home for worship. GANESA is fond of ‘kozhukattai’ and ‘chundal’. The former is a preparation of rice flour, coconut and jaggery while the latter is nothing but boiled Bengal gram spiced with chilly, salt, asofetida. Vadai and paysam are not left out either. Even in ‘kazhukattai’ there are varieties. Not a dish will be tasted before it is offered to Lord VINAYAKA. After the prayers a morsel of every preparation is offered to the crows before the family members partake [of] the dishes served on plantain leaves. The usual dinner or lunch plates are not used for this day. Eating on plantain leaves on days of religious festivals is considered tidy and sanctimonious[1].

The clay idol of VINAYAKA remains in the house for 3 days and on the third day it finds a way out. It would be an act of irreverence if the idol which was (had been) worshipped for 3 days is just thrown out. On the other hand [Rather] the idol is taken out with all obeisance (reverence) and left in a river or sea or put into a well for it to get dissolved.

Collective worship of Ganesa can be seen in its most grandiose styles in Maharashtra just as KALI POOJA [is most celebrated] in Calcutta.

6. Dassera

It is a festival spread over a period of 10 nights the celebration of which is most conspicuous in South India and in Bengal. The Brahmin community in the south attaches more importance to this festival [than do other castes/communities]. They hold an exhibition of painted clay toys and dolls in their houses and invite all their friends and relatives to witness the exhibits. Every year they would add to their collection. Among the toys and dolls could be found those of Gods and Goddesses, village and natural scenery, those representing the various avocations and facets of life and of the community.

The seventh day of this festival is ‘Vijaya Dasami’, specially intended for the worship of Goddess Saraswati whose blessing are sought after for wisdom and learning. ‘Lakshmi’, the Goddess of wealth is worshipped on the next day. Then follows the day of worship of Goddess ‘SAKTHI’, the one responsible for the well being of human life on earth.

In Bengal this festival is celebrated as ‘Kali pooja’ which falls during the month of September every year. No other festival is celebrated with such pomp and grandeur as ‘Kali Pooja’ in Bengal. In almost every street corner could be found special shamianas (awnings) erected and the idol of Goddess SAKTHI or KALI installed therein for worship over a period of 10 days. All expenditure is met by contributions from the community.

* The banner photograph is of a group of women belonging to one of the organisations studied. It is not a photograph of diarists.

[1] This is because banana leaf plates are disposable (usually eaten by cattle) whereas other plates become polluted once people have eaten from them, and have to be washed.