a ponggolicious time at the sri mahamariamman temple, jalan h.s. lee, kuala lumpur

i feel compelled to share my ponggol experience with my readers, so here is a backlog post.

on thursday, i attended the ponggol festivities at the sri mahamariamman temple in the middle of kl. ponggol is a harvest festival, somewhat like the tadau kaamatan. it is actually celebrated slightly differently depending on hindu sects. i think that the major part of the ceremony if somewhat the same for all sects. i think.

there was a sizeable crowd at the temple with a handful of foreign and local malay and chinese tourists. most of the people were just hanging around, but some of them were praying at either of the statues in the temple. there were three statues. the main statue is sathi [mother god]. she is flanked on the left side by the elephant god and on the right side by the god, murugan [the one that is celebrated during thaipussam].

outside the temple, there were two piles of wood and on an altar decked with candles and orchids and jasmines were two brass pots.

the ceremony begins with the priest lighting up kemayans and incence sticks. then, he lights up the firewood into two small bonfires. there is a small metal flame over the fire to keep it in place. the temple floow is tiled, but there is a smallpatch of sand around the bonfire. when the fire is roaring independently, the priest places a brass pot on the metal frame over each bonfire. the pot is then filled half full with milk and rice.

and then everyone waits.

the rice and milk mixture begins to simmer. the priest places more wood in the fire.

in about 15 minutes, the first pot overflows with rice and milk mixture and the crowd sighs with joy and relief. they take turns adding handfuls of rice and paddles of milk in the mixture and begin to cook the broth properly.

10 minutes later, the second pot overflows and the crowd cheers, adding more rice and milk and stirring the mix. when the mix from both pots are properly cooked, brown sugar is added to the mix, and is served to all guests.

several people i spoke to explained the ritual to me. ponggol, being a harvest festival, used to be celebrated by farmers in appreciation of good crop and in prayers for future harvests. the overflowing of rice from the pots symbolises a bountiful harvest for the next season.

i did my own reserch on the festival. the cooking of sweet rice [rice + milk] actually has a deeper meaning. on the second day of ponggol, single girls would carry out a similar brass pot ritual. instead of it being symbolic of harvest, it is in prayer for a good husband. the better a girl is at cooking sweet rice, the better a husband she is bound to get.

i spoke to a hindu friend about this and learnt that this custom is no longer practiced to the book [unless the girl really, really, really, really wants to find a husband soon]. today, most girls do the ritual in a small pot over a stove just to cukupkan syarat, if they do it at all.

at the temple, i also saw the bathing of the statue sathi with pots and pots of milk. several priests and holy men carried pots of milk and started splashing it over the statue which was decked for the occasion with garlands of flowers. the crowd stood watching the bathing in prayer.

one of the people i was watching caught my attention and i watched him for quite awhile. i’m quite sure he did not notice me. he was a man in his 40s, average in built wearing a simple white shirt and faded black pants. he stood in deep prayer in front of the elaphant god with his eyes closed for a long time [which is probably what caught my attention in the first place].

after what must have been 10 minutes, he opened his eyes, took his left ear with his right hand and his right ear in his left hand and bent his knees up and down in front of the god 10 times. he then stood upright as he gazed upon his god with a heartbreaking look of sadness on his face. he stood there again for another good ten minutes with his hands clasped together.

he then moved away from the statue and humbly joined the crowd in the festivities. he was alone and moved alone, unaccompanied.

i wanted to go and speak to him, but a sense of humility came over me. in my line of work, being thick-faced is supposed to be an order. i suppose that that is a barrier that i have not yet overcome.

come to think of it, i’m not too sure if i want to be like that. which is probably why i never became a full fledged journalist and never jumped with both legs into the media industry. not that there is a problem with reporters and journalists, i guess that its just not me. being just a writer is just fine by me. i don’t need more specific denominations.

so there it is, my first ponggol experience. ponggolated.

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