Pongal: a celebration of thanksgiving in India

Fr. Michael with members of the Franciscan Sisters of Aloysius Gonzaga during the Pongal celebrations

Fr. Michael with members of the Franciscan Sisters of Aloysius Gonzaga during the Pongal celebrations

Fr. Tom Cassidy is back in the Indian District where he spends several months each year assisting with formation and administration. As in the past we will share excerpts from his journal on the US Province blog. On Sunday he wrote:

Saturday was a day of mixing ancient and modern traditions. For me it began with Mass at the Holy Family Brothers’ minor seminary just down the road from us. I usually say Mass on Saturdays and Sundays since I now have an international drivers license and can drive myself to and from. It was good to get back as I enjoy the enthusiasm and fine singing of the young men, probably ranging in age from early to late teens. Following Mass and breakfast (my usual Indian breakfast of bread and peanut butter) I headed out for my walk. Getting it in early was a necessity given the plans for the rest of the day.

The community was preparing to celebrate the Tamil Nadu Pongal festival. [Pongal is a festival of thanksgiving] I believe it’s the first time our Christu Dehon Nivas community in Eluru is celebrating it. Fr. Michael Augustine, SCJ, our rector, was born and raised near Chennai in the heart of Tamil Nadu (the state). I’m not entirely sure we would have gone to the effort if it were not for the sisters’ postulant community next to our Nambur novitiate as both Sister James and Sister Augustine (the house superior) and their postulants come from Tamil Nadu and did much of the necessary work that goes into this harvest festival. While the feast comes out of the Hindu tradition, Christians have made adaptations to it.

Our local Pongal celebration began just a tad late as the sisters took the opportunity to visit the Holy Land, a local representation of the important religious sites and events in the life of Christ, run somewhat like an amusement park or museum. Our own Fr. Joseph Kasmir, SCJ (assistant novice master and treasurer of our Nambur community) served as their driver and took part in our house celebration.

Making the Pongal rice

Making the Pongal rice

Usually Catholic celebrations begin with Mass but the most important event of Pongal is the cooking the Pongal (a rice dish). A special pot just for the occasion is prepared and decorated; our own Br. Mary Babu Kota, SCJ (3rd year) decorated our pot with floral designs. As the Pongal cooks to perfection participants do a dance around the Pongal pot and when all is ready our Pongal pot was led in procession as the community processed into our temporary chapel. The Mass was celebrated in Tamil with Fr. Michael as our principal celebrant. It followed the Indian Rite.

Fr. Michael is the only Tamil-speaking priest in our local community but he was able to get some of the concelebrants to dip their tongue into Tamil during the division of parts that take place in the Eucharistic Prayer. The introduction to the Mass was prepared by Br. Shaba Dennis, SCJ (3rd year) who also speaks Tamil while the homily was shared by the postulants of the Sisters of Aloysius Gonzaga. They prepared (in English) a brief history of the Pongal feast while Fr. Michael added how it has been adapted by Christians. A good example is that that Sun God is seen as Jesus the Light of the world and just as the sun is necessary for human existence so Christ is to the salvation of the human family.

Upon the conclusion of Mass it was time to eat our Pongal and begin our cultural program. It was a departure from our usual performances as we not only had dances and skits by our Christu Dehon Nivas brothers but also by the Franciscan Sisters of Aloysius Gonzaga postulants.

 

One response to “Pongal: a celebration of thanksgiving in India

  1. Thanks Tom for this fascinating and interesting post. For me it raises some significant questions about inculturation.

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