To learn more about pongal and bisi bele bath, click here

As this winter solstice sun casts a feeble glow, I notice the garden outside our kitchen window is many muted shades of beige and brown. The once-lush bean tendrils have withered to wisps, and the garden is silent, devoid of its usual avian visitors.

 All except, of course, the curious little birdie on the box of One Pot Pongal before me.

 I drizzle warm golden ghee over my plate of steamy, yellow millet pongal and crown it with shrimp pan-fried in a generous dusting of Spicy Coconut PODI. I add a handful of ribbon murukku and I revel in my plate of comfort. Variety in texture is so essential to enjoying a meal, and nothing beats the satisfaction of a big hearty cronch.

 I feel birds throng to millet farms because of their unique crunchiness and inherent sweetness and nuttiness.

The UN has declared 2023 as the year of the millet, recognizing their nutritional brilliance and climate resilience. Swift to grow, hardy, and drought-resistant, millets once safeguarded against famine and grew easily interspersed between other crops.

 Predating the dominance of wheat and rice, millets were staple crops in India, China, and across Asia and Africa. Indigenous tribes, with their deep connection to millet agriculture, incorporate these grains into significant rituals—marking the cycles of birth, death, and marriage.

 I have picked up some profound lessons this year in understanding indigenous wisdom—from honoring the seasons to embracing diversity. As we bid farewell to this year, I hope you too are easing into rest and reflection, savoring the longest night of the year as we make way for the return of the sun.

 Learn more about millets from the UN FAO website

Indigenous peoples across cultures honor biodiversity with millets

The Irula and Kurumba communities in the Nilgiri mountains of South Indi set aside 25% of the millets grown, for birds and animals. They also multi-crop millets with jackfruit, coffee, amaranthus, beans, and wild mango. They bestow millets with center-stage in sacred rituals.

For the Rukai tribespeople in Taiwan, millets represent the present, blessings, and wealth. Bundles of millet are offered as an engagement gift during weddings.

 

Sharing some reading and listening I came across this year, these have created small pockets of mindfulness in what was a really busy year and inspired me to be more attuned to the changing seasons and to engage all my senses to the natural world around me -  

Mother Earth, Sister Seed, Travels through India's Farmlands, a great book by Lathika George

 As the Seasons Turn, a monthly podcast by the perfumer Ffern and nature writer Lia Leendertz 

Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass, two Books by Robin Wall Kimmerer perfectly balance indigenous teachings and scientific enquiry

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