Every year in January, the Pongal Festival celebrates the start of the Sun’s six-month travel northward toward the equinox, an auspicious moment for Tamil people all over the world, including Pondicherry. The festival lasts four days. The first two days, while the houses are cleaned and old clothes disposed of, people visit their neighbours and family members. The third day is devoted to honouring cows and buffalos, as, according to the legend, cattle accepted to help humans in their field work only at the condition that they would be celebrated once a year. The last one, people thank the Sun God for giving its energy to the earth and allowing food to grow.
During Pongal, people chew sugarcane and decorate their houses with kolams.
Kolams are geometric shapes drawn with rice flour in the doorway of the houses every morning as a sign of welcome and good luck. Decoration is not the main purpose of a Kolam. In olden days, kolams were drawn in coarse rice flour, so the ants would not have to walk too far or too long for a meal. The rice powder also invited birds and other small creatures to eat it, thus welcoming other beings into one’s home and everyday life: a daily tribute to harmonious co-existence.
Every year, Shanti holds a kolam competition for the children, who are divided in three age groups.
A jury composed of “adults” (generally donators and friends of the association, local or foreign) ranks their creations according to a series of criteria including symetry, colours, creativity, etc. In each category, three winners receive a small present.