Seniors celebrate Pongal with the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association

The event, officiated by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Melvin Yong, is part of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association's series of events for Pongal.
The event, officiated by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Melvin Yong, is part of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association's series of events for Pongal.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Some 30 seniors from Sree Narayana Mission nursing home in Yishun were treated on Sunday (Jan 14) to a vegetarian meal in Little India as part of Pongal festivities.

Goodie bags worth about $50 and containing food items such as Milo and coffee, as well as toiletries, were also distributed to them.

The event, officiated by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Melvin Yong, is part of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association's series of events for Pongal, which started on Jan 13, and ends on Jan 20.

Pongal is a harvest and thanksgiving festival that marks the start of spring, and is celebrated worldwide by Tamils, particularly in southern India and the state of Tamil Nadu.

The association's chairman Rajakumar Chandra, 59, said: "We wanted to extend our respect to the seniors as we celebrate Pongal."

One beneficiary, retired bus driver Lim Nguang Chow, 77, said it was his second time celebrating the festival. "When I was younger I would come by Little India. I appreciate the chance to celebrate Pongal together with the Indian community," he said in Mandarin.

Mr Yong said: "Given the diversity in our community, the multiple races and different nationalities living together in Singapore, I think it is very important that we all celebrate each other's festivities together as one."

He added that he was happy to note that both Indians and non-Indians were taking part in the celebrations.


Ms Akiko Hayakawa, 35, from Japan, currently working in Singapore as a teacher, celebrated Pongal for the first time at the event. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Agreeing, Mr Rajakumar said that as Singapore becomes more culturally diverse, old traditions should be retained.

Pongal celebrations, for instance, were re-introduced into Little India only 18 years ago.

Mr Rajakumar said: "Pongal used to be celebrated in Little India in a big way in the 1930s and 1940s. Cattle used to be traded in the area, hence the name Buffalo Road and Kerbau Road. We tried to recreate that. We brought in six cattle and two goats in a shed at Hastings Road. It has been a hit with families."

He estimates that about half a million people would visit Little India for this year's Pongal festivities, which cost about $200,000.

During Pongal, cattle are honoured for their role in ploughing the paddy fields to ensure a bountiful harvest and providing milk.


During Pongal, cattle are honoured for their role in ploughing the paddy fields to ensure a bountiful harvest and providing milk. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Farmers traditionally celebrate the festival in their homes by cooking newly harvested rice with milk over a charcoal fire. The shoots of turmeric and ginger plants, which symbolise good luck and longevity, are tied around the rim of the pot used to cook rice. As the milk boils over, there are cries of joy, music and drumbeats.