Step back in time and enter the peaceful village of Mei Vazhi Salai, tucked away near the historic Jain caves in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu. Founded in the 1940s, this village, meaning “Road to Truth,” welcomes all, regardless of background, creating a beautiful tapestry of unity.
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When the Tamil month of Thai arrives, Mei Vazhi Salai comes alive with Pongal, the traditional and spiritual festival. Here, it’s not about worshipping idols, but about connecting deeply with the land and community. Simplicity is key in this serene village. Traditional thatched huts line the streets, and the lack of modern distractions like electricity and TV reflects the residents’ commitment to a spiritual life. Men wear turbans (called Anandargal), while women (Anandadigal) embrace a harmonious way of living.
Inclusivity is the heartbeat of Mei Vazhi Salai. People from all walks of life, including Brahmins, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus, live together seamlessly, united by the community’s values of peace and understanding. Selva Raghu, a film industry professional, returns year after year with unwavering dedication to celebrate Pongal alongside other devotees. For Salai Paarthan and his family, visiting the village for the past 30 years has been a cherished tradition, strengthening their connection to “Mei Madham,” true religion.
Devotees who received spiritual guidance from the founder wear vibrant orange, while others wear white, symbolising purity and respect.
The Pongal ritual unfolds with grace as men receive holy water, signifying abundance and prosperity. Salai Varkawan, the spiritual leader, lights the flame that unites the community. Together, they prepare and share Pongal, a symbol of nourishment for both body and soul.
In a world often divided, Mei Vazhi Salai stands as a beacon of hope. The overflowing pot of Pongal mirrors the boundless warmth and unity that define this village. It reminds us that despite our differences, we can come together and celebrate our shared humanity.
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Pattabi Raman is a photojournalist based in Puducherry.