Among the festivals we celebrate, Bhogi has been my favourite one once, next to Deepavali/Diwali. A day ahead to Pongal – the harvesting festival of Tamils – Bhogi (Jan 14) is celebrated according to an old phrase in Tamil: “Pazayana Kazithalum Puthiyana Puguthalum” which means discarding the oldest and let in newest, in all possible ways. Though the way of celebrating Bhogi has changed latterly from the real cause, which is relevant to cleaning up and replacing old seed grains in the storehouse with newly harvested. The generation of ours and the previous ones celebrate it simply by lighting a bonfire, at the dawn, with the old and useless woods and materials related to same.
|Pic shot back in 2007 (my last witness to bhogi)|
My Bhogi celebrations with bonfire have ended even before the beginning of 21st century or age less than 15-16. It was a time I wasn't conscious about much anything, including the pollution of environment and endanger of fire, and liked burning things without an idea. Though we haven’t burnt tyres or plastic things, or to say literally, my mom never let us uses tyres despite having many in my uncle’s workshop. We usually put card-boards and old cartons into fire, along with household items like worn out grass mats, broomsticks and winnowing baskets. In our street we are the only to make bonfires – as most residents are faith in different and modest – but compared to our neighbors in backyard, who set huge blazes and light tyres, we put less flame.
I think it is the passion for Bhogi influenced me to always wish for bonfire whenever I visit a hill station or mountain landscape with chillness. Bhogi, being the last day of the Tamil month Margazhi, which is a midwinter time here, the bonfires produce enough warm to bask during the cold winter dawn. Personally I used to look forward to this day, as previous celebrations haunt me while festival nears and more than burning things, gathering along with friends make it keen. What is there a festival without some sound? And having a bonfire in front of us how can we miss a beat? Of course, beating the skin drum is a part of the Bhogi which is impossible to forget.
One doesn't need to be skillful of these drums, which is made of bovine skin covering a terracotta ring, but whoever takes the small skin drum is a composer on their own gesture of hands. Waking up early in the morning we keep beating the drum, heating it often by showing on the bonfire flame so that the skin become tight and make loud noise. And we don’t stop there, but go further around the area beating the drums with friends until it quite dawn. For some time or until the Pongal holidays end, we take the drum and beat whenever it feels and sometime heat the drum on the gas stove. Few times I have saved the drum to beat next year by hiding it somewhere, if unbroken, because parents don’t allow to have skin products at home.
My brother mostly get two drum each year, as he will broke it very soon it was bought, we sometime fight for the one, if drums anymore available. Because the accessible to these drum are limited for a day or two with Bhogi and we used to get it from the pot-pan makers in our area. Usually we use to beat the drum with a stick removed from the coconut broom, but many used to stick tar to the tip of theirs. Seeing those I too wished having a similar one but except couple of occasions (to my memory) I couldn't make it out. One of my memorable trails with Bhogi was carried out to the streets. During an occasion we (friends) took a cycle tyre from a bonfire in the neighborhood and carried out along our way to show heat to the drums.
I have seen some people used to boil water with the last bit of fire on the bonfire to take hot shower on the cold winter morning. On this day households carry out cleaning process and some whitewash their house with fresh coat of paint. I spent the Bhogi only once at my grandfather/mother place and being a congested/crowded residential area, the festival is light up heavily and waking the street in barefoot means dyeing in black. Many residents there burn mostly tyres and at the entrance of each by-lane a pile of ashes would wait to spread all over the tar road. These years I almost forget there was a day like this! But memories...