The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington DC together with the Sri Lankan community in the Greater Washington area, celebrated Thai Pongal at a colorful ceremony at the Embassy on January 13, 2008. A cross-section of the Sri Lankan Tamil community resident in the greater Washington area and representatives of the Sri Lanka-related associations in the area were present at the event.

Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke who addressed the gathering, said that the Washington Embassy, during the past three years, had celebrated important religious festivals of the four major religions practiced in Sri Lanka. The Ambassador created the mood for the evening’s program with his speech on the existence of Hinduism during pre-Buddhist times in Sri Lanka, the blending of Hinduism with Buddhism from the Polonnaruwa period onward, and its absorption into the religious fabric of Sri Lanka. He enriched his speech with colorful descriptions of ancient pre-Buddhist Hindu temples such as Thiruketheeshwaram, Munneshwaram,Thondeeshwaram, Thirukoneeshwaram and Naguleshwaram, that existed in all four corners of the island.

Mrs. Kanaga Ranganathan who conducted the Hindu prayers, spoke eloquently about the significance of Thai Pongal to Hindus and described in poignant detail how the Tamils of Sri Lanka celebrate the festival in traditional Sri Lankan style. As a thanks giving festival to the Sun God, who brings prosperity to the universe, Thai Pongal is not confined to Hindus but to all living beings in the universe, she said. ‘Thai’means the first month of the Tamil calendar. So it is the belief that prosperity comes along with the first month of the year on the Pongal day. Mrs Ranganathan expressed her appreciation at the tireless efforts the Ambassador has made during the past three years to celebrate all religions with all Sri Lankan communities in Washington DC, a small step that will, in its own significant way, boost the giant step needed to unify the communities in Sri Lanka.

Following this, the traditional Hindu oil lamp was lighted by Ambassador, followed by a program of devotional songs to Lord Ganesh, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Lord Murugan and to mark Thai Pongal. The religious rituals ended with the offering of Pongal to Lord Ganesh and other deities.

At the reception that followed the religious ceremony, the refreshments served included an array of food traditionally associated with Thai Pongal.

As an unusual feature to the traditional program, a former South Indian actress Kasturi spoke to the gathering about her perspective of Thai Pongal as celebrated in South India.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

14 January 2008

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