Pongal is celebrated the day on which the sun begins to move northwards is called ‘Makar Shankranti’. In Tamil Nadu this festival is called the Pongal or Thai Pongal. The period is referred to as Uttarayanam and is considered auspicious. Pongal is a four-day festival.
The first day, Bhogi, is celebrated on the last day of the month of Margazhi. On this day, people decorate their homes. New vessels are bought and clean up home and environment.
The second day is Perum Pongal, is the most important. People worship Surya, the Sun God. Women decorate the central courtyard of their homes with beautiful kolams, done with rice flour and bordered with red clay. The Pongal payasam is cooked in the early morning during the sunrise, exactly at the moment when the new month is born.
The third day is Mattu Pongal, celebrated to glorify cattle that help farmers in a myriad ways. On this day, the cows are bathed and decorated with vermilion and garlands and fed.
The last day is Kaanum Pongal. It is that part of the festival when families used to gather on the riverbanks and have a sumptuous meal. It is also time for some traditional dances such as kummi and kolattam. Special prayers are offered by women for the well-being of their brothers.
Pongal ushers in the New Year in Tamil Nadu. Newly-harvested grains are cooked for the first time on that day. Joyous festivities mark the celebration in every home. The poor are fed and clothed. On the next day, the cow is worshipped, and birds and animals are fed.
Amma says “For me there is no creator and creations. Like the ocean and the waves, they are all one and the same. God is in the people or in the world, and the world is in the people. It is love that transforms into worship. Even nature is part of God. That is why we have temples even for insignificant creatures such as lizards, trees and poisonous snakes. We have ‘Mattu Pongal’, we worship the cattle. We need them for cultivation. It is a form of thanksgiving to the entire creation as that is the power that sustains life.”
The Sun is worshipped as the embodiment and source of Life-Force, without which we could not be. Payasam is offered to the sun seeking his blessings, and then eaten as prasad; the second day, animals are venerated, usually through the worship of a representative cow, which again is offered sweet payasam; the third day sees the family relations worshipped, of course through more offering of payasam, and, more importantly, through the coming together of family members. If there have been arguments or miscommunications in the family, this is the day when the air is cleared and hearts are opened. It can be a very healing time, restoring a deep relationship with the Universe, Mother Nature and one another. Through this festival, the Creation is recognized as the miraculous divine blessing it truly is.
Amma also explained an interesting point about the intelligence behind this kind of worship, saying that it is not superstitious, but in fact very practical. During this particular festival for example, the tradition of cooking payasam and allowing it to boil over is observed all over South India. This overflowing of sweetness represents the Prema (Divine Love) that should overflow from our hearts towards all of Creation. Amma continued with a remarkable point. She said that the steam rising from the rice, jaggery, cardamom and other spices being boiled in so many households and mixed with the smoke from the firewood traditionally used, actually creates a special medicinal combination that has a very beneficial effect on the atmosphere. The collective observance of this and similar practices has a positive effect on both the ‘mental environment’, as well as the weather, climate and harmony of Nature in general. This is just one aspect of the subtle wisdom underlying these simple, elegant customs.
“Pongal means ‘to overflow.’ The time when humankind’s love for nature and nature’s love for humankind overflow—that is Pongal. Human beings make nature happy by having good thoughts and doing good actions. Nature blesses humankind with a bountiful harvest. When the universal mind and the individual mind overflow and become one—that is what Pongal is symbol of.
“Matru-devo bhava, Pitr-devo bhava, acharya-devo bhava atithi-devo bhava—‘May you see your mother as God, your father as God, your teacher as God, your guests as God’—this is what Sanatana Dharma teaches us. Respect everything, worship everything. Why? Because there is nothing other than God. May this Pongal Festival be an opportunity for you to you to instill this culture and God deeply within and spread it without.
“Festivals are, in fact for everyone living in the area. Even people working far away will return home in order to participate. Everyone will sit together, eat together and remember old times together. On such occasions, we experience the joy and exuberance that occur when hearts come together. These festivals are sacred moments that help us to establish love and unity and nourish our relationships.
Om Namah Shivaya, Everyone! Welcome to my blog on Urban Gardening & Composting coming to you from GreenFriends Mexico!
This month we will continue our discussion on Urban Composting; and we will preliminarily conclude the topic in my next blog coming soon in August 2021 with other specific ways to compost if you live in a city or home with limited outdoor and / or indoor (kitchen) space.
Composting Taboos & Fear of Getting Our Hands Dirty. Ewwww! Composting is gross and smelly! Right? Wrong!
If you learn to compost correctly and start your composting experiments off small, there will be absolutely no smell, no insects, no rodents – all false myths about indoor urban composting!
On June 20, 2021, I offered an Amritaculture Live Q&A Session of Red Worm Composting in urban environments with Hugo Bernal. Here is the link to this session and other amazing offerings from Amritaculture Instructors from around the world which can be found in our YouTube channel (please subscribe!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLEzMbuW04U
After the session on Red Worm Composting, a dear friend of mine called me. She requested that I write a blog addressing cultural and personal taboos which keep people from composting – particularly for the Asian Indian population who may be less likely to compost. I thought it was an amazing idea for a blog!
There may be cultural taboos and personal prejudices around composting. To be quite clear: Indians are not the only cultural group that may be resistant to composting! People from all backgrounds fall into this category. For many people of all backgrounds, compost bins are imagined to be dirty, full of smelly rotting food, and just plain yucky – who wants to touch that or work with that?!
I have a confession to make. I was that guy until about 2 years ago when I began to experiment with my red worm composting bin, and I fell in love with process as well as other composting projects I will share with you in my upcoming August 2021 blog! Stay tuned and watch for it to learn more!
Many of Amma’s children are from Mother India. Also, millions of Amma’s children globally have been heavily influenced by the thought-world and spiritual biases of Indian culture even when they may have grown up outside of India! It is well known that many Indians would be resistant to composting in general as it is a cultural taboo for Indians to handle dirty things, trash, and (possibly) compost.
Saucha (a niyama or observance of yoga delineated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) means “purity.” Well-intentioned disciplined spiritual persons from India may be trying to preserve saucha – the conscious practice of inner and outer purity — and that is why they may avoid “dirty work” like composting.
Lord Jesus in the New Testament constructively criticized the spiritual people of His time for being overly concerned about “outer purity.” He smiled to Himself seeing them do lustrations or mikvehs (body washing) before entering the temple (like a devoted Hindu taking a dip in the Ganges three times or more per day prior to doing sadhana).
Jesus pointed out (I paraphrase): “Why are they so worried about washing the outside of the cup instead of the inside of the cup?” By cup, Jesus was referring to the body. We pay more attention to the outside (the body) and not enough to purifying (eradicating) the attachments and aversions which keep us chained to the wheel of samsara.
There is the famous story of Amma realizing the Ashram septic system was failing. None of the early residents wanted to go into the septic tank to clean it and get it working properly. Amma – the Purest of the Pure – jumped in first. Of course, when Amma led by example everyone protested, asked Her to stop doing the dirty work, and offered to do it for Her. Amma reportedly did not stop and did the dirty work of cleaning the septic tank with Her truly Divine Hands…
When we do the “dirty work,” although the hands may become soiled – the more soiled the hands become, the purer the hands become; and, the purer our inner and outer realities become, too.
Doing composting seva (inside an ashram and / or in our homes) will be one of the most purifying spiritual practices we can do to conserve the health of Earth and to help Her to heal from the innumerable injuries each of us has caused Her due to our collective lack of education, lack of awareness, and / or lack of personal effort.
I remember living in Amritapuri. I would sweep the trash and do recycling and composting seva everyday all day long. I loved it! I had the divine privilege of serving Amma by helping to keep Her Body (the Ashram) clean! Most of the people doing these sevas noticeably were not of Indian descent. One of the few Indian people doing the seva (who happened to be coordinating the seva) told me, “Amma often says that she admires Her Western children… because they are never afraid to clean and do ‘dirty’ sevas (selfless service).”
I asked my Indian friend, “What do you mean by this?” She said, “It is a cultural thing. Cleaning and dirty work is seen as unsuitable work for many Indians.” Thus, we see a cultural taboo. This should definitively not be taken to mean that ONLY Indians are averted from dirty work due to whatever reason or philosophy.
I lived in the San Ramon Ashram, which has many Western devotees. It is amazing how many of us avoided or “forgot” to take out the kitchen compost, clean the Temple bathrooms, or sweep the dust and cobwebs out of the Temple… Amma has said (I paraphrase): “He who helps to set up and clean up after a puja attains more merit than he who does the puja.” This means that those who do sevas or tasks they view as “unfavorable” or “dirty” get more merit than those who get to do foo-foo sevas or sevas that may seem to momentarily put them in the spotlight. We must never forget that seva is sadhana (spiritual practice that leads to Liberation of Consciousness from samsara).
Composting is seva we can and should do for Amma and the planet in every home. Those who see no task (seva) as below them quickly rise to the top and are examples for all. Amma is the perfect example of this for all of us. No work is lowly. All work (all seva) is valuable. Whether we live in an ashram, offer seva at an MA Center around the world, or manage our own apartment in an urban environment, no work is lowly or unsuitable.
If we do not believe this, we need to carefully reflect on the topic. In yoga philosophy, attachment (raga) and aversion (dwesha) are the two sides of the coin of desire. Desire, according to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, leads to suffering, frustration, and lack of spiritual illumination or true spiritual comprehension. If we are seeking spiritual liberation, we must be open to transcending attachment and aversion for the betterment of our families, communities, countries, and the globe.
It is no small exaggeration that if everyone in the world began to compost in their kitchens that we would be well on our way to healing and restoring balance to Mother Nature. To reduce the waste going into landfills should be on the mind of every person (especially if he or she is a devotee of Amma Who constantly is encouraging us to actively participate in source reduction, recycling, tree planting, and organic gardening).
If we are not composting yet because of a negative cultural perception or because we do not want to get our hands dirty, we need to roll up our spiritual sleeves and compassionately observe our egos.
The ego tells us “I want to do only what is comfortable for me. I do not want to do what inconveniences me (composting is time consuming is common false myth). I think it may be smelly or attract bugs or….” We need to educate ourselves, experiment in small ways to see what kind of composting is best for our urban habitats or small modern-day apartments.
In doing so, we will see that if various methods are done correctly in even the smallest confined spaces, there will be no smell, no insects, no rodents, no dirt to speak of. Instead of contributing to the destruction of our planet and the elimination of animal species at a horrifying rate, we can restore Mother Nature’s health and destroy Mahishasura: The Great Ego within all of us.
If any of us truly seeks moksha (union with the Divine), we must go beyond aversion. If we have negative repelling thoughts about urban composting (or composting in general), read about it with a Google search, buy a book on Urban Composting, and learn. What we do not understand we fear or have prejudices about. The world needs you! Let us go beyond all cultural taboos and personal prejudices about composting and give Earth a chance at healing.
The Benefits Outweigh Perceived Issues
Here are some important environmental benefits achieved through composting:
It improves the soil in indoor potted plants and outdoor gardens and green spaces – making the soil “living soil” due to the healthy microbes produced in the compost itself.
* Compost helps to restore and filter local water sources. Compost can retain 5 to 20 times its own weight in water. Adding compost to soil increases the amount of water that can penetrate into the soil. The water can seep all the way down to the impervious rock layer where it wells up and can begin to refill local springs, ponds, and lakes. Via downward drainage through compost, soil, and rock layers, the rainwater is filtered as it makes its way to these water sources.
* Composting Makes Our Oceans Cleaner! All water gradually makes its way to oceans. Compost’s ability to filter water as it penetrates the ground means that the water flowing into the ocean will be cleaner. One of the biggest oceanic pollutants are the nonorganic fertilizers and poisonous chemicals used in farming and gardening.
* Compost reduces erosion of topsoil and “living soil” (that is, soil with compost added to it). One-third of Earth’s farmland has been lost within the last 40 years due to erosion and pollution. Erosion is caused by excess water that is not able to penetrate the ground. Water consequently collects and pools on the surface and rushes down to lower elevations, taking the topsoil with it and depleting the agricultural land. Compost can serve as a sponge and permits much more water to filter down through the ground – thus preserving the topsoil.
* When food waste rots in landfills, it releases methane and carbon dioxide. Organic matter dumped in landfills is the third largest form of methane emission resulting from humans. Composting decomposes our food waste without producing methane emission into the atmosphere.
* Compost reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. To retain microbes in our “living soil,” plant roots will release carbohydrates from their roots to both attract and feed the microbes under the soil. Plants siphon CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the air, absorb water through their roots, and via the science of photosynthesis, turn carbon dioxide into carbohydrates (sugars)! The sugars combined with the microbes that consume them produce humus — a part of the living soil that gives soil its structure, nutrients, and moisture. Humus is largely credited for keeping carbon dioxide beneath the soil.
* Composting saves you money! The average household wastes about $2,200 dollars’ worth of food yearly. When we compost at home, we notice how much food and money we throw away. With this awareness we can buy less and save money; or use the money we have been carelessly wasting to feed the hungry in our communities!
* Composting can create millions of jobs! Advocate in your communities for compost pick up (the same as trash or recycling pick up). When this is successfully accomplished, many people can have good paying jobs while at the same time preserving the health of our local environment!
There are so many wonderful reasons and benefits when it comes to urban composting, they simply cannot be listed exhaustively here in one blog.
Doing an online search or visiting a library is a great way to learn more and to heal the Earth if the topic interests you; or if you need further convincing to get started.
Please stay tuned for my August 2021 Blog delineating “cleaner” ways to compost in small spaces (like indoor apartments or urban homes with little or no green space).
We can make this planet Heaven on Earth. But we must have God’s grace, put in personal effort, and be aware of how our personal positive composting habits can make a big difference!
Communicating with nature came into my life quite naturally. The trees were my friends as a child and have brought me solace as an adult. I thought I would share a short inspiration about how talking with the trees helps me in my spiritual and emotional life, supports my creativity and connects me to Amma even when I am far away from Her physically.
My hometown is London, and I’m lucky enough to live in a very green area (called Greenwich!) with a beautiful park that contains many large old trees. As a child I would play inside these trees (many of them are evergreens with branches that come almost to the ground, creating a separate world “inside” the tree. I would designate different areas to be the bedroom or the living room. I would make ‘cupboards’ in the roots of the trees, or up in the branches, and store my favorite rocks, feathers and petals safely.
After meeting Amma, as my spiritual life deepened, I discovered that being with these trees was much like being with Amma. If I was struggling being apart from Her form, I would visit these trees and hug them. Lie on their branches. Lean against their trunks.
“Being in the space of the trees and flowers connected me to a wisdom that was larger than myself.”
We started to build a relationship, and I would feel them reaching out to embrace me long before I was leaning in to hug the physical trunk of the tree. Every day I would look forward to the moment when I could walk in the park and visit each of my tree friends in turn.
One day I was struggling with something and I spontaneously found myself talking to the tree about it. I felt safe with this gentle giant, and could open my heart fearlessly, knowing I wouldn’t be judged or evaluated against some imaginary standards. To my surprise, the tree ‘spoke back’. Or perhaps more accurately, I discovered that inspiration and insight were easily available in the shelter of the tree’s embrace.
I started to explore this phenomenon. I bought myself a dictaphone (so that I wouldn’t look like a crazy lady!!) and I started recording the information and inspiration that would come. I discovered that if I was willing to be open, and talk freely about whatever situation I was facing, if I was open to the ‘muse’, being in the space of the trees and flowers connected me to a wisdom that was larger than myself.
“It really felt to me like Amma was answering my questions through these incredible tree beings.”
If I needed direction for my work, I would ask the trees what to focus on. If I was sad, I would share my feelings and allow clarity to wipe my tears. The trees became my daily companions. I would seek out their counsel and each day I would be surprised by the depth of insight that flowed back in response to my explorations. It really felt to me like Amma was answering my questions through these incredible tree beings. After participating in these conversations, I would feel such a sense of peace and steadiness, like I was exactly where I needed to be and was right on track.
Since that time, I have continued this practice in various places around the world, wherever my travels carry me. It’s always beautiful to commune with nature, and bring my questions to Her gentle embrace. And yet, the depth of response is not the same without the relationship. Nature is more like a silent witness, holding space for my process, but the responses are generally not as profound as with my deep-rooted tree friendships in that park in London! Perhaps this mirrors our relationship with Amma, because when we feel close to Her in our hearts, we are much more open to following Her guidance in our lives. I pray that one day I can have that depth of friendship with the whole of nature, and see Amma in everyone and everything!
Amma’s love for mankind expresses itself in everything she does, both tangibly and intangibly. During the pandemic when so many devotees could not be in Amma’s physical presence, among other things, Amma offered them the gift of Amrita Virtual Academy, through which all her children can both learn something new as well as connect to her, the embodiment of Saraswati Devi, the Goddess of Learning.
Amma’s children long to be able to speak a few words to her in Malayalam, the language of love incarnate. This adds a new depth and dimension to their relationship with her. When they go for Darshan, Amma takes the pains to ask each one of them what their native language is, and blesses them in that language.
Now, Amritabhaasha students look forward to reciprocating and being able to speak to Amma in her mother tongue when they see her next. In fact, many of them are already speaking to her in Malayalam in their hearts, during their daily prayers, and while practicing the course material. I am amazed by how much and how quickly they have picked up this admittedly difficult language in a relatively short period of time. Students have been writing dialogues and short essays in Malayalam, some of which we will be sharing on this blog.
All of this has happened only through Amma’s grace. From the first time when she touched and blessed one of the slides, to the time when I showed her the lessons, and she smiled as she listened to the audio–– all of us have felt her grace and abundance in so many ways since those initial moments. It is only this grace that has carried us through the various phases of designing, implementing and teaching the course.
Many students have shared that they feel deeply connected to Amma through the course. Like this, learning the language has become a labor of love, a Sadhana, moving from communication to communion with her. They say language builds bridges, and in Amma’s Love, learning Malayalam has become another way of connecting us Jivatmas to Amma, the Paramatma.
Amma knows all her children’s hearts. They don’t have to be long time devotees or impressive spiritual giants. I have an incident to share that proves the depth of her love and compassion.
Once we were in Toulon, France, where the crowds that come to see Amma are huge. After three days of non-stop Darshan, Devi Bhava was coming to an end. We were lined up on both sides of Amma’s path waiting for her to come. There was a young boy standing next to me who was doing crowd control seva. He told me how much he admired the tour staff. He felt sad that maybe he did not have as much dedication or devotion to Amma, and that it hurt him in his heart. He pressed his hand to his heart. I consoled him saying all of us are equally devoted and Amma knows his heart. A few minutes later, Amma came down the steps. It had been a very long hectic Devi Bhava and I was hoping she would just walk straight to her camper.
Of course I was wrong! Guess where she stopped? Right in front of that young boy standing next to me who had a pain in his heart. Her smiling brilliant radiant eyes looked at him full of compassion. She brought her right hand up to his heart, exactly where he had said there was a pain. Saying “Mone, mone”, she rubbed his heart for a while, gave him a hug and left. The boy stood there speechless. Tears of gratitude filled his eyes as he looked at me and said: “How does she do that? How did she know my heart was aching?” To an ordinary human being this may seem like a miracle, but for an Avatar like Amma who is One with all of creation, this is the only way it can be. All our thoughts run through her who is the Cosmic Self. And she blesses us with her love to heal the pain in our aching hearts.
( Mone – Son )
I bow down to Amma, offering my deep gratitude to Her for allowing us to have a glimpse of and experience the fullness of her Immaculate Love, which is the nature of the Self.