The Harvest is Plentiful, and the Labourers are United

Article written by Jeannette D’Netto and Jofintha Joseph

It was an early Sunday morning of this year’s Ponggal celebration that saw our Church adorned with beautiful colours of Indian culture. Walking into the grotto area, parishioners were graced with the swirling aroma of ponggal, the traditional rice dish primarily made with bounties of the harvest such as rice, various herbs, milk, and brown sugar.

The attention cannot be taken away from the grand photobooth, designed by the youths from the Tamil Apostolate. It rightfully commands the attention of any passerby, with creative model polystyrene peacocks which feature real feathers! It was impressively put together to symbolise the harvest festival with tasteful inclusions of Catholic elements and clever repurposing of Christmas tree garlands from December.

With such a grand photobooth, it was only apt that the photos taken are equally as impressive. Patrons of the saree draping booth were treated to an educational saree draping experience in which, CDM parishioner, Aileen Francis and her fellow volunteers draped and pleated an array of vibrant cotton sarees and Pattu sarees, which are exquisite Indian silk sarees that are woven with gold or silver thread. To complete the look, volunteers at the Mehndi booth were in their element adorning the hands of patrons with free-hand drawn floral designs, each distinct for the other.

Sabahan, Sandra Richard, who was a vision draped in an electric blue saree shares, “This is my first time being draped in a saree, which seems quite complicated but [the volunteers] make it look so easy! Both the seniors and young volunteers each showcased their individual capabilities to drape a saree which include painstakingly pleating the fabric to form a fan. This is such a great experience and I feel very beautiful wearing this unique and colourful saree. When I was in Sabah, I only knew about the Deepavali celebration. Now being in Peninsular Malaysia, I have learnt about the Ponggal celebration which is akin to our Kaamatan (Harvest) festival of giving thanks for the bountiful blessings we have received.” Victoria Puyang, a Sarawakian student from UiTM was equally awestruck by the saree she was draped in. “This is my first Ponggal celebration, I had never had the chance to experience this back home and it’s so interesting to see how complex sarees are to wear!”

Parishioners were spoilt for choice to participate in the many activities lined up for them, and the free Mehndi offered by the Tamil youths was a popular option! Many were seen patiently queueing to get intricate designs painted on their hands. “It is so encouraging to see many Tamil youths finding joy in their culture through their commitment to our Church’s Ponggal activation,” said Stella Lawrence, member of the Tamil Apostolate, “now there are 30 to 40 youths who are in active participation, we are a humble group as compared to other cultural communities here but it is beautiful to see us grow slowly but surely!”

What could not be missed was the monumental kolam display at the grotto, the main one out of three kolam displays prepared for Ponggal weekend. The awe-inspiring display was a joint effort between the Tamil Apostolate, KUBM, and English youth groups which took a record three days to complete! ‘Petaling District Unity ‘Ponggal’ Chinese New Year’ it says, depicting our Church of the Divine Mercy logo as Christ at the centre of it all surrounded by ponggal pots and bunny rabbits to usher in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit.

There were also booths to introduce flower garland weaving, where parishioners could try for themselves after carefully observing the experts at work, parishioners were even spotted gracefully walking away with jasmine flowers weaved into their ponytails, it was bright smiles for all! Another booth that had a magnetic charm with the crowds were the instruments’ booth – where David Anthony had generously offered to display his traditional Indian flute, harmonium, mirdangam, tabla, and tape for onlookers to try out.

The rainy afternoon did not dampen the vibrant colours surrounding the festivities at all, particularly as parishioners were delighted by the special performances including the Kolattam dance (stick dance), Malayali and Punjabi dances as well as a dance choreographed and performed by a Masters holder in Traditional Dance from Chennai, Juliana Selvi called the “Life of Jesus” dance.

Following this, the students of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Taman Sri Muda put on a Silambam showcase, offering parishioners a peek into the world of Indian martial arts.

One of the highlights of the celebration was the ‘Unity Ponggal’ activity participated by over 14 teams comprising CDM Shah Alam ministries and representatives from the Church of Assumption PJ and St Ignatius Church (SIC) Kelana Jaya. Teams worked together to cook the traditional sweet Ponggal rice, known as Sakkarai Ponggal, traditionally using wood fire and clay pots. In thanksgiving to God for His bountiful blessings, the teams presented the completed dishes during the special Ponggal thanksgiving Eucharistic celebration thereafter.

The running theme throughout the fun-filled day of cultural awareness had been a great start to a year, as Fr Michel beautifully said, “[We should] appreciate the cultures of Malaysia in unity, today is not the celebration of one group of people – but it is our celebration as a parish”.