"So, why do you celebrate Ponggal?" my non-Hindu roommate asked me yesterday as another Hindu roommate and I were getting ready to go to the temple. Honestly, I gasped in shock at her question. I always assumed that people knew why we celebrated Ponggal just as how I know why my Muslim friends celebrate Hari Raya Korban or how my Chinese friends celebrate their new year. I just thought people knew. I then proceeded to explain to her that Ponggal is celebrated as a harvesting festival, as a form of thank you for the harvest that has been given. I also stressed that Ponggal is not a religious festival, but a cultural one. She nodded her head throughout my explanation and I was pleased. Just as I continued pining up my hair, she asked me another question. One that made me go speechless, at least for a few seconds. She said, "So, Ponggal is a cultural festival and not a religious one right? Then, why are you going to the temple?". I've gotta admit. It was a good question. Despite a serious urge to chuckle deep within me, I maintained a straight face and gave her an answer (one that I am not going to state here, for a very specific reason). Anyway, that was it. That 2 questions that led to this blog post. So, darling readers, heads up coz Raeva has something very important to say today.
Let me begin by giving you a very sad scenario. We, the Indians of IPGKBA celebrate Ponggal every year in college. We dedicate one day, usually a weekday to prepare the Ponggal pots, we decorate an open space, we prepare food, we dress up to our best (I always wear sari), and we invite everyone from college, regardless of race, including lecturers to join us in the celebration. Let me stress, we invite them with an open heart. And yet, this is what that happens.
We wait. We wait and wait. You can count the number of non-Indians (outside of our own little Indian committee) that actually make it to the event. Let me just say that the number is depressing and not worth mentioning. I won't say that the sweet rice cooked or the food prepared is wasted. Nor are the dance performances lined up stay unrecognised. We have fun, among ourselves. We laugh a little too much, dance with one another and eat all that we can.
Thing is, there is this little bruise in the hearts of every Indian in this college. One that seem to be getting deeper with every year that passes. We are disappointed and among others, really upset that our own friends from the other races just refuse to participate in the celebration. Where did we go wrong? Was the decoration upsetting, the dance not proper or just the event itself that leads to this happening every single year? Well, I did a survey.
Among the reasons that I have heard is that Ponggal is a religious festival and participating in the celebration would mean that they are disrespecting their own religion. Erm, really? Well, I did my research too. Hence, teachers-to-be, I say this with all the respect in the entire world towards every single religion out there, get your facts straightened out! PONGGAL IS NOT A RELIGIOUS FESTIVAL!
It is a thanksgiving festival in which we thank the Sun and farm animals for their assistance in providing a successful harvest. And we also thank the farmers out there who work hard to produce grains for us. Whoever said that saying thank you is one that is attached to religion?
But then again, you may ask, "Why on Earth are you people still celebrating Ponggal in college if no one comes?" That's a good question too. Thing is, to me personally, no matter what, I treasure my culture and I would love to share the culture that I come from with my friends. I may not be able to speak the Tamil language fluently (well, I am learning), I still carry the teachings of my culture with pride and love. And hence, I just hope that there will be a year in which we celebrate Ponggal in college and my friends from other races actually make it to the event with bright smiles and an open heart.
After all, we live in a multicultural society and it is crucial to learn about one another's culture, don't you think so?
Ps: We, the Indians of IPGKBA will be celebrating Ponggal on the 22nd of January 2013. Question is, will you put on your best clothes, lace up your shoes, carry your bags, open up your hearts and make it for the celebration this time around? Think about it.
Signing off with much love and hope.