On the afternoon of Saturday, 20 January, a group of parishioners of the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM) in Sg Ara, Penang together with their parish priest, Fr Martin Arlando, were seen hard at work in front of a blazing wood fire, boiling milk in a clay pot. As the milk boiled over, signifying abundance and prosperity, shouts of “Pongalo Pongal!” reverberated through the church grounds. This was the start of the 2-day Pongal event organised by the CDM Tamil Apostolate. Rice and other ingredients were then added to the pot to make the sweet concoction known as pongal.
Later that evening, the freshly-cooked pongal, together with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, were presented as offerings at the Sunset Mass. Parishioners of all races, dressed in colourful Indian traditional attire, turned up in full force at this evening Mass which was celebrated in English and Tamil. After Mass, everyone gathered eagerly in Faustina Hall for an evening of fellowship and good food. Entertainment was provided by the youth of the parish who performed several exuberant Bollywood-style dances with great panache.
After morning Mass the following day, the parishioners gathered again, this time in the church basement, to take part in the games and contests which had been organised. There were contests for drawing kolam, weaving thoranam, decorating kuthu vilakku and cooking pongal. There was also a colouring contest for children of different age groups. The basement had been sectioned off so that the different contests could be run concurrently. By the time the contests started, the place was chock-a-block with people who had come to mingle, participate and support the contestants. The kolam artists quickly got down to work drawing their designs on the floor and decorating them with coloured powder while in another corner, the thoranam contestants were seen expertly weaving coconut fronds. In the outdoor area, a large group had gathered to cheer on the participants of the cooking contest who were frantically fanning wood fires and coaxing their pots of milk to boil. At the conclusion of the contests, everyone was treated to a scrumptious curry lunch served on banana leaves while the winners of the day for the contests were announced.
Spotted among the crowd was a small group of migrant parishioners who had come to support the event. Though few in number, they gallantly took part in the contests. Joseph Nguyen, from Vietnam, came in 2nd runner-up in the kolam contest while his son, one-and-half year old Amos, romped home with a prize for best Indian traditional dress. Meanwhile, Jils Poovathinkal from Kerala, India, who came with his friend Aneesh, managed to bag a prize for weaving thoranam. Patrick Ezekwe, from Delta State, Nigeria, commented that he had enjoyed the event very much even though he did not win any prize; in fact, the sights and smells at the event reminded him of home where cooking was still done over wood fires in the villages.
Attending celebratory events and joyful occasions helps to create happy memories, and this Pongal event was definitely one such event. Kudos and many thanks to the CDM Tamil Apostolate for giving the parishioners the opportunity to experience a measure of Indian culture and create happy memories. The good Lord granted fine weather throughout the two days of celebration. The parishioners were blessed to share in this display of overflowing cultural joy experience of others. Thai pirandal vazhi pirakkum!
Ng Wai Queen
23rd January, 2018