The famed Pongala, which falls on February 27 in connection with the annual festival at Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in the Kerala capital, will be held in the homes of devotees in keeping with COVID-19 regulations and some of them will be offering the goddess bran-rich valiyachennellu, a native organic rice
Like every year, devotees will cook rice on an open hearth on the occasion of Attukal Pongala, said to be the largest congregation of women in the world in connection with the annual festival at Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
However, this year, in keeping with COVID-19 regulations, the Pongala, which falls on February 27, will be held in homes of devotees. And some of them will be offering the goddess bran-rich valiyachennellu, a native organic rice sourced from the paddy fields of Wayanad.
Activists of Save the Rice Campaign are rooting for organic rice to be used: Rice and rice flour are the main ingredients of the dishes made for the Pongala.
In addition to cooked rice, there is payasam, mandaputtu and therali appam, all cooked with rice or rice flour, made as an offering to the goddess.
“Thirunelly Agri Producer Company (TAPCo), which began in 2017 in Wayanad with 10 farmers cultivating on two acres of paddy fields, is hoping to encourage devotees to use traditional organic rice, specifically valiyachennellu, to cook the pongala. This variety is rich in iron content and in the past it was a must in the diet for pregnant and lactating women,” says Rajesh Krishnan, an ecologist and one of the founder-members of TAPCo.
Dileep Kumar R, biotechnologist and member of TAPCo, is spearheading the campaign in the city by tying up with Kala Vedhi Charitable Trust, an organisation that has been distributing free kits containing ingredients required for the Pongala.
“Dileep, Deepak D and I have been friends since college and all of us are from the capital city. We have joined hands to bring the goodness of rice that is free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers to residents,” says Rajesh.
Wayanadan thondi, njavara, gandakashala, and paal thondi are some of the native rice varieties popular with consumers in Thiruvananthapuram. “We hope to distribute 300 kilograms of valiyachennellu that has been farmed by our cooperative. An exhibition and sale of the different kinds of organic rice farmed by us will also be held on the sidelines of the festival. Our aim is to motivate the women who come to the temple to understand the benefits of traditional organic rice varieties,” explains Dileep.
TAPco has also made arrangements to deliver the rice directly to customers. Rajesh points out that unless there is a market for the rice, it will not be sustainable for farmers to continue growing these varieties, some of which have been revived from the brink of extinction.
“Now there are 89 farmers doing paddy cultivation on 200 acres and we offer a wide range of rice with medicinal and aromatic properties that are sourced directly from farmers’ collectives,” says Rajesh.
Recently, the cooperative opened a paddy processing unit meant for organic paddy. “The only one of its kind in the State, we process paddy into par boiled, double boiled, raw rice, flour and so on. It can process three tonnes of paddy every day,” says Rajesh.
While Deepak, an environmentalist and academic, is popularising the native species of rice in Alappuzha, Rajesh and Dileep see their efforts to do the same.
Concludes Dileep, “We hope that the devotees understand that the rice we are giving them is the best they could use for their family and as an offering.”