Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Aranmula: Women Offer Prayers and Ponkala on Earth Day

Mother Earth, We are Indebted to You for all that We have, We Bow to You, sang Surya Kumar an young girl. It was an unusual celebration of the Earth Day 2013 at Aranmula, when women in their hundreds offered
Maleth Sarala Devi, former MLA, at the Ponkala
Ponkala, a ceremonial sweet rice dish cooked and offered to the Goddess Earth. The chant was from Atharva Veda, one of the four Vedas, from the many chants prpitiating Goddess Earth called Bhoomi Suktam. It prays for all, beyond caste, creed or nation. Millenniums old Vedas, just as the folk traditions of India have built in safe guards to protect Mother Earth, what through time became part of the culture. But this got eroded in the recent past, here was an effort to restore the sacred traditions.

Lined on both sides of the road in their white sarees and salwars they prayed, that Mother Earth bestow strength, that Mother Earth is protected, healed, that everyone lives in harmony, Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu. It was near the Puthariyal, in front of the Sree Parthasaradhy Temple at Aranmula, that this unique Earth Day celebration was organized. it was a scene of grace and with the boiling Ponkala in the earthen pots, with rice and raw sugar in the make shift hearths, their spirits swelled.

Under the auspices of Sakti Vahini, women’s wing of the Aranmula Paithruka Grama Karma Samithy, the
event drew great attention and it was also a day of joining a global collective, of saner minds. The ritual was inaugurated by, as is customary, the head priest of the famous Chakkulath Kavu Goddess temple, Radhakrishnan Namboodiri. After due rituals of Ponkala fire was lighted from a sacred lamp and the male volunteers brought the fire and materials to the women.

Ponkala, also called Pongal in Tamil, is a popular ritual in south India where the post harvest village community offers this thanks giving ceremony to Mother Goddess. It is normally done at homes, in the early mornings and the rituals were
traditionally done by women themselves, their becoming priests for the day, but with the decline in paddy cultivation and shift to urbanization this has given way to Ponkala at temples. This is also done at night on full moon days.
The Ponkala, which was also in the backdrop of the protests against an airport project that is to damage the delicate wetland ecosystem and heritage of the area, was followed by a meeting where the participating womenfolk asserted their rights over natural resources and pledged that they shall pay any price to protect the ecosystem. The meeting was addressed by eminent women of the area and the leaders of the Paithruka Grama Karma Samithy. All of them reiterated that their resolve to oppose the planned airport which is to damage the water availability and heritage of the region.
The meeting was chaired by Vijayamma S Pillai, President of Sakti Vahini. Maleth Sarala Devi, Sreekumari
Mohan, Santhi Vijayan Nair, Thara Unnikrishnan, and others spoke. Kummanam Rajasekharan, Patron of the Paithruka Grama Karma Samithy, elaborated on the traditions of conserving nature as Mother innate to Indian culture. Pointing to the place of honor that women had in India and their role in nature conservation Kummanam called on the womenfolk to take up the challenges. Threat to nature is also threat to women as Sreekumari Mohan said, for it is women who shall have to struggle when scarcity of water and essential food are affected. The Ponkala offering was part of the various empowerment programs and campaigns planned by Sakti Vahini.   

Photos Courtesy: Sreerenganathan KP  

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