New Delhi/ Chennai, Jan 15: President Pratibha Patil has greeted her fellow countrymen on Pongal, which is being celebrated today.
In her message, President Patil said, "I extend my greetings and felicitations to all my fellow citizens and wish them happiness and prosperity. Pongal is day of great festivity and rejoicing." "May these festivals bind each one of us in fraternal love and affection and inspire us to work for the unity, progress and well being of our nation," she added. In Chennai, AIDS patients celebrated Pongal, even as American students and faculty joined revelry in a separate ceremony.
A self-help group, "Indian Community Welfare Organisation" staged the festival to encourage 25 men and women infected with the deadly virus.
Women cooked rice as offering to the Sun God as a thanksgiving for a good harvest. The rice is allowed to boil over as a symbol of plenty and prosperity.
Nearly 200 people joined the celebrations to avoid the feeling of societal discrimination faced by AIDS victims.
"We feel very happy on the eve of Pongal. I have been infected by HIV for the past 21 years. Most of the time, I was left out. But this year, we are celebrating this festival," said Noori, an HIV infected woman.
In another ceremony in Chennai, some 22 students and as many faculty members of Elmhurt College, Illionis, USA, joined the festivities. The group is in the city from December 30 under the education exchange programme.
The American group, who is staying at Madras Christian College, pursuing their rural village studies, participated in Pongal and cooked food.
"Having opportunity to have first hand experienced and to bring our students into the traditions, values into this part of India means so much for us. We cannot substitute anytime spent in classrooms studying books. Here we are learning Indian traditions, about people, about history of India and meaning of harvest," said Malden Turk, a professor from Elmhurt College.
Originally celebrated almost exclusively by the Tamil farming community, Pongal has now become an important festival even among non-farming Hindu communities in towns and urban areas.
The festival is widely celebrated across India with different names. In North India it is known as 'Makar Sakranti' and in the East "Bihu".
Pongal is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the harvest by thanking the rain, sun and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest.