A major harvest festival in southern India occurs each January, when people honor the gods of the primary elements, especially the sun. During the first three days of the festival every house-front is decorated with intricate kolams, which are Hindu designs of welcome fashioned from rice.

On the second day of the festival each household prepares a special dish of Pongal, a nutritiious bowl of sweet rice and beans offered first to the gods, then to cattle and crows (believed to be returning souls), and finally to all those who partake of the feast.

According to tradition the presentation of the dish must literally Pongal (“overflow” in Tamil) as the ritual celebrates the joy of abundance. Therefore multiply this recipe according to your community, and then make a little extra.

1 cup rice
1/2 cup moong daal (mung beans)
2 cups milk
2 cups water
1/2 cup jaggery
15-20 cashews chopped
1/2 cup ghee
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup fresh-grated coconut
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Seeds or 6 cardamom pods, ground

Dry roast the moong daal lightly over a low heat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Mix the daal with the rice and wash thoroughly. Put milk and water in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Add rice and daal and cook, stirring until it’s a soft mass and the liquid is fully absorbed. Add sugar and cook over a low heat until dissolved. Add 4 tsp of ghee and stir until a sticky consistency is achieved. Heat the remaining ghee in a frying pan and lightly fry the coconut, cashews and raisins for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle this mixture over the Pongal along with nutmeg and cardamom and serve warm.


Designing a Kolam on the ground