India Volunteers Erich and Katie recently were recruited by local families to judge a kolam competition outside Global Volunteers’ guest house in Chennai, India. This is their report:
Today was a very special day as it started the Pongal celebration. Today is the first day of the festivities and it’s called Bhogi, which is similar to the new year. We woke up to smoke filling the air. It is a ritual to burn the old papers and to start fresh for the new year. Pongal, as I understand it, relates to the celebration of the harvest, specially of sugar cane. Also, Pongal itself is a sugary rice dish.
We left the guest house around 7am to observe the kolam competition happening in our neighborhood. It was incredible to see the kolams take form. Some of the kolams took over 2 hours to make. As we were wondering around, Erich and I were asked to be judges for the competition. How could we refuse? We judged the kolams on color, finish, theme, and accessories and perfection. We loved having a role in the judging. It was truly wonderful. They even gave us a gift of a scarf for our effort.
But that wasn’t all. Part of the celebration included making the Pongal dish, which we definitely wanted to try. They had a local community politician there to kick off the celebration, and then the activities started. They had us participate and be in many of the photos with the community as well. I was even allowed to stuck my hand in to scoop the rice into the pot and stirred the Pongal. The Pongal was very tasty and sweet!