The traditional harvest festival is an opportunity to meet. Tamil Catholics, who go to church to celebrate Pongal, are Catholic by faith but Tamil by ethnicity. “Just as Tamil Hindus are grateful for the sun, cow and nature, so for us Christians Jesus is our sun, our nature,” says one participant.
Colombo (Asia News) – Thai Pongal is a traditional Tamil cultural festival dedicated to the harvest and the sun, celebrated by farmers who depend on Mother Nature and its elements for an abundant harvest of rice, their staple food.
This year, Hindu Tamils celebrated the event yesterday in all of their communities, but they were not alone. In Doloswala, Nivithigala, Diocese of Ratnapura, some 75 Tamil Catholics gathered at the parish priest's residence, dutifully respecting COVID-19 restrictions.
“Just as everyone gathered today to celebrate this Pongal, so you should live together for the rest of the year. Thus, may you preserve the flavour of the tasty Pongal you eat today for a lifetime,” said the local parish priest, Father Amila Jeevantha.
“This is a typical Tamil area with Hindu Kovils (temples) everywhere,” Fr Peiris told AsiaNews. “When Hindus go to their Kovils to celebrate Pongal, Tamil Catholics go to their church and do the same. They thus show their love and unity with Tamil Hindus.”
“All (Tamil Catholic) villagers came in the morning for Mass; some put up decorations, while others prepared the Pongal. After Mass, the Pongal was blessed, shared and enjoyed as a symbol of love and sharing.”
The Pongal dish is Thai Pongal's main sweet, made with rice boiled in milk, sago, plums and spices, traditionally cooked in terracotta pots.
“Just as Tamil Hindus are grateful for the sun, cow and nature, so for us Christians Jesus is our sun, our nature. Our God is the only power on which we must depend. Hence our special thanks, and sacrifice to God”, said Father Jeevantha.
On this Thai Pongal day, people brought their home-made Pongal as an offering to the Mass. But after the church service, “I went to the nearest Kovil with some Catholic families and joined alms giving,” said Father Jeevantha, speaking to AsiaNews.
“Hindus had prepared food to distribute among the elders to celebrate their Pongal. We also attended that event,” added the local priest.
“The fears, doubts, and negative attitudes that were in our minds were removed . . . New hopes came in. As we worked together to put up the decorations, there was no distance between us and new friendships developed”, said Steevan Nirosha, speaking to AsiaNews.
Fr Lakshman Peiris is a Jesuit priest who hails from Trincomalee, Eastern Province. He told AsiaNews that every year on this holiday they share love with Hindu Tamils. “Many Tamil families live around our Jesuit home; many of them are Catholic and come for Tamil Mass in our chapel held. We respect their customs.”
Father Lakshman pointed out that while their religion is Catholic, they are ethnic Tamil. “Thai Pongal is a Tamil cultural festival. We must appreciate and support Tamil cultural values. That is why every year we celebrate Thai Pongal in our Jesuit home.”
“Trincomalee is home to Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others,” Ft Lakshman explained. “So we always strive to develop brotherhood, love, and unity among all.”
This year, due to the covid-19 pandemic, celebrations saw fewer participants.