A Pongal For Three Kings
Image Credit: Moonu Raja Pongal | Instagram - @essenceoflife.sm

Pongal is the most important festival for not only the Tamil communities in India and Sri Lanka, but also has great significance wherever the disapora has settled around the world, be it Mauritius, Singapore or Malaysia. The contours of the celebrations are the same, no matter which part of the globe you're in: the meaning attached to each of the four days of Pongal, the rice dishes that are cooked specifically for the festival, the customs and rituals followed. But in Pondicherry and Karaikal, Pongal takes on an added, unique hue.

For Tamil Christians, the proximity of two major festivals on the calendar — Pongal and Feast of Epiphany — offers an opportunity to merge traditions. Feast of Epiphany marks the visit of the Three Wise Men (or Three Kings) to pay their respects to the infant Jesus. Therefore, many Tamil Christian communities celebrate this confluence of Pongal and Epiphany by naming it "Pongal Raja". The first harvest is believed to symbolise the gifts that the three Kings carried to baby Jesus: gold, myrrh and frankincense. Similarly, the tradition of letting a pot of rice boil over, is seen as the overflowing of God's grace on His children. Special masses are held in churches in honour of the occasion. Pondicherry, with its considerable Christian population, leads these celebrations with fervour.

The pongal is offered at the Church | Instagram - @ketan_shirodkar

The dish prepared on the Feast of Epiphany by the people of Pondicherry is called the "Moonu/Moonuru Raja (Three Kings) Pongal". Newly harvested rice (such as the aromatic, short-grained and GI-tagged seeraga samba variety) is cooked with coconut milk, a sweetener like sugar or jaggery, cardamom and dry fruits to make a rich and creamy pudding that is presented in church as an offering. The pongal is also distributed among neighbours, friends and family. A portion of the pudding is placed on a banana leaf along with a few ceremonial items like a small piece of sugarcane, poriyal (dry vegetable preparation), vadagam (a condiment made with button onions and a mix of spices) chutney, tambulam (betel leaf), supari, bananas and jasmine flowers.