Celebrating the harvest in Little India

SINGAPORE- It is harvest time in Little India.

A celebration of Pongal, a harvest festival observed by Hindus, kicked off yesterday at Kinta Road.

Pongal marks the start of the auspicious month of Thai, when Hindus give thanks for the blessings of the past year. The festival pays tribute to the Sun God for a good harvest.

Last night, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan launched the event by switching on decorative lights along Serangoon Road.

There are 16 overhead decorations bearing images like the traditional pongal pot, sugar canes and cattle.

This year's pongal celebrations in Little India will go on till the end of this month. Close to a million people are expected to be in the vicinity during this period.

Festivities include cultural dances and a mass pongal cooking event.

Six popular foreign artists, including Robo Shankar, will also entertain spectators with songs and dances tonight.

The celebrations are taking place in Little India a month after a riot broke out on Dec8, sparked by a fatal traffic accident involving an Indian national.

Dr Balakrishnan said that despite what had happened, Little India is "still a special place (and) deserves our support".

He urged all Singaporeans to continue supporting Little India stakeholders and also referred to foreign workers as "our cousins and brothers".

"You build so many things and you provide so many services to all of us... You deserve our respect. We will protect you. We also expect you to respect and to protect us.

"I think this is now the time for us to come together to learn to renew our commitments, our relationship and our support for each other," added Dr Balakrishnan.

Pongal celebrations in Little India began in 2001 and are organised by the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association. Vice-chairman Gohulabalan Sundaresan urged all Singaporeans and tourists, as well as foreign workers, to join in the festivities.

"It's supposed to be a happy festival and we hope to put everything that happened in the past behind and move forward to celebrate."

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