Pongal celebrations in Tamil Nadu began with gusto Thursday. People woke up early, dressed in traditional attire and prepared Pongal, a sweet dish, to herald the auspicious Tamil month ‘Thai’, during which marriages are held and new ventures started. Colourful kolams (rangoli) wishing people were seen drawn in front of many homes, while prayers seeking divine blessings for a good year ahead were also held.
In Madurai, the festival was marked by the commencement of the annual Jallikattu (bull taming) event at Avaniyapuram. A total of 788 bull tamers and 430 bulls will compete in the event this year. As per the COVID-19 guidelines issued by the state government, the number of players should not exceed 150, and COVID negative certificates are mandatory for every participant. The number of spectators must not to be more than 50 per cent of the gathering.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and DMK youth wing leader Udhyanidhi Stalin visited Avaniyapuram to take part in the Pongal celebrations and watch Jallikattu. Gandhi, who flew down to Madurai from New Delhi, was accompanied by senior party leaders K C Venugopal, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee chief K S Alagiri and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayansamy at the venue. Stalin and Gandhi were seen engrossed in conversation on the dias.
Rahul left for New Delhi after spending close to half an hour at the venue. Speaking to reporters at the Madurai airport, Gandhi alleged that the Centre is trying to suppress the Tamil spirit and that is the worst thing they can do to the country. Gandhi said he flew down from Delhi to witness the hugely popular event “because I think Tamil culture, Tamil language (and) Tamil history are essential for the future of India and need to be respected by everybody” in the country. “I have come here to give a message to those people who think they can run roughshod on Tamil people, who think they can push aside Tamil language and Tamil culture,” he said without naming anyone.
Waving black flags, few bull tamers who participated in the #Avaniyapuram Jallikattu event raised slogans against the #FarmBills. The police said they have been detained alongside others who caused trouble during the event. @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/GVXBpksRqP
— Janardhan Koushik (@koushiktweets) January 14, 2021
K S Alagiri had earlier confirmed Gandhi’s one-day visit to Madurai — reportedly the first of several programmes being planned in the state ahead of the May 2021 Assembly polls. He added that Gandhi would lend his moral support to farmers protesting against the new farm laws by witnessing the sport at Avaniapuram.
Gandhi praised the efficiency with which Jallikattu had been organised and observed that the bull owners and tamers were safe and had been taken care of. “..quite a lovely experience to see Tamil culture and history in action,” he said about Jallikattu. “I came today on a festive occasion, I want to start by wishing everybody a happy Pongal. I also witnessed Jallikattu and had a nice time. I got a sense of why Tamil people appreciate Jallikattu. There was a sense many people had mention to me that Jallikattu is harmful to bulls. I witnessed it today and I must say that the way it was done today there was absolutely no chance of either the bull getting injured. In fact, if anyone is likely to injured it was the young men who are doing Jallikattu. So I am happy to say that there have been some changes to make it safer”, Gandhi said.
Gandhi said that he had received tremendous love and affection from the people in the state and said that it was his “duty to stand with people of Tamil Nadu and protect their history, their culture and their language.” “I have come here also to learn about your culture, your feelings, about your history,” he added.
“One of the main reason I came was today the government in Delhi is under the impression that they can destroy the cultures of this country. They believe they can suppress the emotions of the Tamil people, they believe they can crush the language of the Tamil people, they believe they can suppress the spirit of the Tamil people. I came to give them a message that nobody is going to suppress the Tamil spirit. There is a reason for it, first of all Tamil spirit cannot be suppressed. And second of all, suppressing the Tamil spirit is the worst thing you can do for country because the Tamil spirit like many other cultures, they are the soul of the country. So I am completely against the Idea that there is only one particular idea, language, notion in this country”, he said.
Speaking about the farm laws, Gandhi said that farmers are the backbone of the country. “If anybody thinks, that you can suppress farmers and this country will continue to prosper, they just have to look at our history. Whenever Indian farmers are weak, India is weak. I would like to ask a counter question (to centre). ‘You (Central government) are suppressing the farmers, you are helping a handful of businesses. When Corona (Covid-19) comes, you are not supporting the common man. Whose Prime Minister are you? Are you the Prime Minister of people of India, or you the Prime Minister of two-three selected businessman? And the final question – What is China doing inside our territory? Why does the Prime Minister have nothing to say about it? Why is he silent on Chinese Troops sitting inside our territory?’ These are the real questions to be asked. I am very proud about what the farmers are doing. I fully support them and I will continue to do that. Mark my words, take it from me. These laws (farm bills) the government will be forced to take them back”, Gandhi said.
Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and DMK president M K Stalin extended their greetings on the occasion.
Palaniswami attended the celebrations, held on behalf of the Tamil Nadu Police, at St Thomas Mount. He will present the Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers Medals to as many as 3,186 police and other uniformed services personnel in recognition of their outstanding devotion to duty.
According to a release by the government, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Constabulary Medals awards will be presented to 3,000 police personnel in the rank of Grade-I Police Constables, Head Constables, Havildars and Special Sub-Inspectors of Police, an official release said. Further, 120 Fire and Rescue Services Personnel and 60 Prison and Correctional Services Personnel (Men and Women) will be conferred the Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers Medals in recognition of their outstanding devotion to duty.
In addition to the above awards, Palaniswami has ordered the Chief Ministers Medal for Excellence in Technical and Specialised Services to six personnel, two each from the Police Radio Branch, Dog Squad and Police Photographers.
Five men were detained by the police for creating a ruckus during the Jallikattu event in Avaniyapuram. According to the inspector, all five were bull tamers, and had entered the arena with black flags and raised slogans against the farm laws.
The inspector said the five men were taken off the field and detained. “We are investigating the case”, he added.
On Day 1 of the Jallikattu event, at least 17 people — bull tamers, owners and spectators — have been injured so far.
Meanwhile, a man was stabbed after a fight erupted between two men on who would release the bulls first.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat participated in Pongal celebrations in Chennai. He made a surprise visit to the house of a functionary, where he recited a couplet from the Tirukkural (a Tamil classic), authored by Tamil savant Tiruvalluvar, and performed ‘gau puja’ (cow worship). Bhagwat taught the couplet, on the possession of self restraint, to a girl of the RSS functionary’s family.
Earlier, Bhagwat had offered prayers at Sri Kadumbadi Chinnamman Temple in Ponniammanmedu and participated in community Pongal celebrations. His two-day visit to Tamil Nadu concludes on Friday.
(With PTI inputs)