Pongal festival spiced up to draw in the young

Dancers performing a folk dance called Poikkal Kuthirai. This year, the Pongal celebration will have more interactive performances as well as more activities targeting young people, such as a design contest, a mini farm and a heritage carnival.
Dancers performing a folk dance called Poikkal Kuthirai. This year, the Pongal celebration will have more interactive performances as well as more activities targeting young people, such as a design contest, a mini farm and a heritage carnival.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Celebration of harvest festival kicks off this Friday with street light-up on Serangoon Road

This year's activities for Pongal, a harvest festival celebrated mainly by the Tamil community, will focus on attracting more young people, said organisers.

"If you don't bring them in, the tradition may fade away," said Mr Rajakumar Chandra, chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (Lisha), the main organiser of the celebrations.

Besides having more activities for the young such as a design contest, there will be more interactive performances, a mini farm and a heritage carnival, to be visited by some 5,000 students.

Pongal, which also refers to the boiling of milk and rice to signify abundance and prosperity, begins on Jan 15 and is a four-day affair.

But celebrations start as early as Friday with a street light-up on Serangoon Road, followed by a series of activities until Jan 24. They include a Festival Village, where Pongal, a traditional sweet pudding, will be distributed to around 6,000 people. The activities will take place on the pedestrianised Campbell Lane and on Hastings Road, which will be closed till Jan 20.

"During the 1950s and 1960s, (Pongal) used to be a well-celebrated festival in Singapore, but things went downhill until 2001, when we revived it," said Mr Rajakumar. "The people who are going to continue growing this will be the youngsters."

Lisha is expecting a turnout of around 200,000 people this year, up from about 5,000 in 2001. Reasons for the growth include greater awareness of Pongal over the years and participation from the community of Indian expatriates and foreign workers.

The National University of Singapore's Tamil Language Society is helping to organise the design contest, Bitz and Pieces, which will take place on Jan 16.

"We're not just targeting the Indian community, and we're looking at people aged five to 16," said Mr Arul Oswin, 22, the society's president. "This is a great avenue to spread awareness of what Pongal is all about. It is part of our culture, heritage and is something that we should cherish."

WATCH IT ONLINE

Catch the Poikkal Kuthirai performance for a preview of this year's Pongal celebrations http://str.sg/ZH4p.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Pongal festival spiced up to draw in the young'. Print Edition | Subscribe