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Pongal Vazhthukal everyone!
Tamilians all over Malaysia are all at home today, dressed in colourful traditional costumes, preparing wonderful kolum designs and putting their claypots on a firepit to begin their four-day celebration of the bountiful harvest and prosperous year they had last year!
Among all of the Tamil or Hindu celebrations that we know of, very few of us actually know about Pongal. Of course, we have heard it a thousand times, mostly in passing. Our curiosity is piqued but a simple explanation by our Tamil friends saying, ‘Oh, it’s just a harvest festival’ is enough to make us give a non-committal ‘Oh’ and move on with our lives.
Not Just a Harvest Festival
In actual truth, Pongal is more than ‘just a harvest festival’. It is a day of giving thanks and appreciation to God and the sun for giving plenty of harvests and food. Even though it is not applicable to most of the city-dwelling Tamils but hey, traditions like this should be uphold!
Oh, one more thing. It is common belief that Pongal is the day when deities wake up after a 6-month long sleep and those who have died during the last 6 months period gets moksha during this time.
More reason to celebrate it, right?
History of Pongal
Before I further explain about Pongal, let’s talk about the history behind this wonderful celebration first.
Pongal celebration is believed to be dated back to almost 1000 years ago. Although it is celebrated all over India but it is done with great fervour and enthusiasm in the South especially in Tamil Nadu since most Tamilians earn a living through agriculture.
That is why, Pongal is a day made for worshipping the sun god Surya and earth goddess Bhumi as a show of gratitude for the bountiful, healthy crops bestowed to them.
Four Days of Shabang!
This year, the harvest festival starts from 15th of January and will end on 18th of January. For every day of the celebration period, specific traditions are observed since each day has its own importance.
The four days are named as Bhogi, Thai Pongal, Maatu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal.
Day 1-Bhogi Pongal
Bhogi is actually the eve of Pongal. Usually it starts with a simple prayer offered to the god Indra with traditional rice or jaggery-based dishes as offerings.
Besides, Boghi gives the chance for people to clean their houses, throw out of old belongings and equipping the house with new ones.
In India, cattle owners paint the horns of oxen and buffaloes with bright colours to give a more festive feel prior to the big day. Farmers also take time to plant medicinal herbs like neem and flaming trumpet flowers. They are believed to prevent diseases and pests from plaguing the crops. This can only happen if you plant them at the Northeast corner of your fields. So, get your compass and start planting!
Day 2-Thai Pongal
Day two or Thai Pongal, is the main event. On this day, it is purported that the sun has entered the 10th house of the Indian zodiac, Makara or in English terms, Capricorn.
On this day, Tamilians decorate their front doors with a banner-like wreath made up of banana and mango leaves. Colourful kolams are drawn by the doorsteps. These signify their welcoming of good tidings and prosperity.
Conches will be blown throughout the day, followed by wishes of “Pongalo Pongal!” and “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum”. Gift-giving and grand feasts are the highlights of the second-day celebrationl.
Day 3- Mattu Pongal
Day three of the Tamil Harvest festival is called Mattu Pongal. It is a day solely dedicated for cattle. Cattle is an important component in farming. Farmers use them to til the soil. So, it is right to show some love and appreciation to these hardworking animals.
On this day, cattle are adorned with colourful floral garlands and bells. Then, a prayer session is conducted, cattle owners will bring their prized ox, bull or cow for a round of ‘Jallikattu’ (cattle race). This sport is held generally in the evening.
In the past, it was the day when fierce bulls are chased by young youths of the village to retrieve the money that was tied to the horns of the bulls. In some villages it is held on the final day of the four-day celebration.
Day 4 – Kaanum Pongal
All good things must come to an end. However, that does not mean you cannot end it on a high note. Pongal ends on the fourth day, known as ‘Kaanum Pongal’. This day is known as the reunion day. Many families hold get-togethers and lavish one another, with food, gifts and money.
A Bountiful Feast
In Malaysia, festival celebrations will not be completed without food. After all, we Malaysians live for food!
There are four dishes that are usually been served during the harvest festival which are the Chakkara, Venn, Melagu and Puli Pongal. All of these dishes are prepared in a claypot over a firepit.
The Chakkara is a sweet rice porridge made as an offering to deities worshipped. It is usually made using rice, coconut, mung bean and jaggery. If you prefer savoury over sweet, the Venn is the dish for you. It is typically served as a breakfast dish in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. It is usually served with Sambar and coconut Chutney.
For spice nuts, the Melagu is definitely your kind of dish. This spicy variant is made with pepper, rice and moong daal. Finally, no celebrations in a respectable Tamil house will be completed without including Tamarind rice in their food spread!
This delicious sourish dish is made with just two simple ingredients; tamarind and boiled rice. It is not specifically associated with the Pongal festival but is often eaten for dinner.
Prosperous Year Awaits
Pongal is a beautiful tradition that should be preserved and practiced for years to come. It celebrates togetherness and appreciation to the future generation.
JOHOR BARU: Five times Malaysian Super League champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) has launched its new football kit for the 2019 season. [...]
As many as 7.3 million people have already gotten the flu this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) first real-time flu severity estimates.
Though the flu is now widespread in about half of states, the 2018-2019 season got off to a relatively mild start, at least compared to the severe 2017-2018 season. Still, the CDC’s numbers show that influenza has already affected large numbers of Americans. The agency estimates that between 6.2 and 7.3 million people had been sick with the flu as of Jan. 5, and about half of them had seen a doctor because of it. As many as 83,500 people with the flu had been hospitalized by that date.
Death estimates for adults who contracted the flu are not yet available, but as of late December, the CDC said that about 6% of deaths nationwide were due to influenza or pneumonia. As of Dec. 29, 2018, 13 children had died from influenza this flu season.
The CDC’s latest report marks the first time the agency has provided relatively current estimates for the total number of influenza cases, doctor’s visits and hospitalizations during a given flu season. “These new in-season estimates fill out the picture of the burden of flu in the United States,” the agency said in a statement, adding that they will be updated weekly.
The flu is expected to affect more people, so the CDC is still recommending that people get a flu shot. To reduce the spread of illness, it also recommends that people stay home if they are sick, wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their eyes, noses and mouths. [...]
After a relatively slow start to flu season, influenza activity is now widespread in nearly half of U.S. states.
Twenty-four states and Guam were reporting widespread influenza activity — meaning the virus has spread to many parts of the state, regardless of severity — as of Dec. 29, the latest date included in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) weekly flu report. Meanwhile, 19 states and New York City were reporting high levels of influenza-like illness activity, meaning a much higher-than-average proportion of doctor’s visits could be attributed to the flu. Nationally, about 4% of outpatient appointments were related to the flu during the week ending Dec. 29.
Hospitalization rates associated with the flu remained relatively low, at 5.4 admissions per 100,000 people. Rates, however, were higher among young children and the elderly (14.5 and 11.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, respectively), as these populations are more susceptible to complications of the flu. Thirteen children have died from the flu so far this season.
Although flu cases are climbing, the numbers are still well behind those reported at this time last year, when the nation was in the midst of one of its most severe flu seasons on record. At this point in the 2017-2018 flu season, 46 states were reporting widespread flu activity, there were 13.7 flu hospitalizations per 100,000 people and almost 6% of doctor’s visits were related to the flu.
The severity of last year’s flu season, which killed an estimated 80,000 people, may be one of the reasons behind the slow start to the 2018-2019 season. Data suggests that more people got vaccinated earlier this year than they did last year, perhaps motivated by memories of the prior season.
The viruses circulating this year are another reason for the milder season. H3N2, the strain largely responsible for last year’s outbreak, has so far been less common than the H1N1 strain. Flu shots tend to work better against H1N1 than they do against H3N2, so higher early-season vaccination rates may mean that fewer people are getting sick. (In states where H3N2 has been circulating widely, namely in the southern half of the country, flu season has been more severe.)
With illness spreading and months of flu season left to go, experts still recommend getting a flu shot. While it’s best to get one early in the season, it’s never too late — and doing so may protect not only you, but also children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations, experts say. [...]
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