In Dharavi, Pongal is the new reason for a street party

For most Mumbai residents, the mention of 90 Feet Road in the congested Dharavi neighbourhood brings to mind endless traffic jams, incessant honking, and buildings sorely in need of a coat of paint. Just before dawn on Friday, though, it became the venue for a giant street party. For more than half a century, this part of Dharavi has been home to migrants from Tamil Nadu and on Pongal, 90 Feet Road was where they gathered to celebrate the festival of abundance.

Aerial view of the festivities.
A boy struggles to keep his veshti on.
Women from other faiths also join in the festivities

A section of the road was closed to traffic and over a 1,000 brick fireplaces had been hastily assembled. Three different kinds of music blared out: one set of sounds from the Shiv Sena loudspeakers, one from the Hindu Yuva Sena and a third from a DJ at the end of the street who was entertaining the kids.

Makeshift Brick ovens lined up a day before Pongal in Dharavi
Women make some last minute inspection before the festival
A member of the RSS erects picture

Soon, hundreds of women began to line up. The organisers gave each of them a bag of rice, tamarind, ginger, jaggery, stalks of sugarcane, a brand new cooking pot and a number telling them which fireplace they had been allotted.

Tiny flames lit up the road. The younger women were guided by the elder ones. The wave of pre-dawn camaraderie was broken briefly as the smoke brought itchy tears to everyone's eyes. But as the sun came up, everyone on 90 Feet Road said a silent prayers with folded hands and watched the sweetened rice boiled over just a little, a gesture acknowledging the abundance of the present and a fervent wish that it would continue in the year ahead.

Devotees In Dharavi
Created By
Ilmaz Syed
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Photo Credits: Ritesh Uttamchandani

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