People of Tamilnadu, India, celebrate the annual festival of ‘Pongal’ or the ‘festival of harvest’ with great fanfare and fervour offering their agri-produce to the Sun and local deities to express their gratitude and pray for better yield in the coming season. Their offerings are varied: food grains to cattle and goats to roosters depending on their means of livelihood.
But when you travel to Sevugampatti on the Batlagundu-Dindigul highway, a small village about 32 km away from Dindigul, the locals throw a banana festival as part of their annual festival of Solaimalai Azhagar Temple.
Similar to the ‘La Tomatina’ festival in Spain where participants throw tomatoes at each other, devotees hurl bunches of bananas at devotees waiting outside the temple. This annual local festival has been around for two-and-a-half centuries on the third day of Thai, Tamil month.
Pilgrims stock banana bunch meant for offering in baskets. At least 20 to 25 dozens of bananas are enthusiastically carried by the pilgrims to be offered to the local deity. One can see even truckload of bananas brought in by affluent agriculturists.
The festival begins with hundreds of devotees carrying basket-loads of bananas on their shoulders who gather on a street near the temple. Local youth cover the bananas completely with umbrellas. The procession enters the temple with great joy and rejoicing. The tradition is such that each house in the village has to offer at least one basket of bananas that were kept before the deity. Special poojas are observed and now the devotees carry the banana loads to the roof of the temple from where they are hurled at the crowd assembled outside the temple. The festival has no age bar and is open to all genders and people of various social strata and faiths who grab the fruits hurled at them as an expression of devotion and harmony.
Some devotees help people who cannot afford to grab one with bananas; even bystanders are offered with a banana or two, and the festive spirit is shared amongst all.