10 Downing Street hosts Thai Pongal reception for British Tamils

Rupanjana Dutta Tuesday 23rd January 2024 08:08 EST

10 Downing Street organised a community reception to celebrate Thai Pongal, second year in a row, as people from the community in beautiful traditional silk sarees and veshtis (Tamil dhoti) braved the -8 degrees Centigrade temperature in London, to queue to get in. 

Thai Pongal is the harvest festival celebrated by Tamils in correspondence with Makara Sankranti.

The harvest festival is named after the ceremonial "Pongal", which means "to boil over or overflow" and refers to a traditional dish prepared by the Tamils, marking the end of winter solstice. The new harvest of rice is boiled in milk with jaggery, which is allowed to overflow while cooking, representing the “blessing of abundance” in life.  


The celebration at No 10


The room at 10 Downing Street, that normally hosts most community receptions, buzzed with around 100 people from both Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil background on 18 January noon. Outside the door a nicely decorated rangoli was displayed, with a sugarcane arch and a clay pot (that is traditionally used to cook Pongal), while a small picture and statue of Lord Ganesha sat in the corner of the room, with flowers and sweet Pongal as offerings, and a beautiful, sweet incense filled up the room. 

Nimbu paani (lemon juice) and mini idlis with chutney by Ruby’s Events Catering made rounds, as people mingled with each other, many of them part of the NHS. There were also present local businesses, councillors, MPs, ambassadors, professionals, and artists, who chatted away enthusiastically. 

The reception had the High Commissioner of India to the UK, Vikram Doraiswami and his wife in attendance along with Rohitha Bogollagama, the newly appointed Sri Lankan High Commissioner (designate), to the UK. 

Addressing the audience the host, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins, hailed the UK’s Tamil community (which includes Tamils from India and Sri Lanka) for their incredible contributions towards the health sector, vaccination programme and various other walks of life. 

She said, “As we mark the end of the winter solstice and give thanks for the start of the harvest season and the brighter months to come, it’s terrific to see the room packed with members of the Tamil community from across local government, businesses, the law, civil society, and, of course, our NHS as well as the Parliamentarians who champion their interests and give voice to their concerns not only in the House, but also through their work as constituency MPs… 

“…The Tamil community makes a colossal contribution to British society enriching our culture, strengthening the diversity that is among our greatest strengths, supporting and representing so many of our communities. Thank you for everything you do, all your endeavour, and all the sacrifices that you, your families, and the entire Tamil community make for our country. 

“For generations, you’ve embodied the true meaning of service, from the Tamil pilots who defended our shores during the Second World War, to the Tamil scientists who helped deliver the first ever vaccine for Covid-19 – saving millions of lives across the world.

“Today, thousands of Tamils work in our schools as teachers and teaching assistants, equipping the next generation with the knowledge, skills, and resilience they need to succeed. In London alone, Tamils run more than a hundred social care institutions, protecting some of our society’s most vulnerable people. As many as 15,000 Tamils work across the NHS as doctors, dentists, nurses, paramedics, porters, physios, and managers - caring for patients and changing lives every day.  Many are in this room – from doctors and dentists working on the frontline, to lecturers training the NHS staff of tomorrow as we deliver the first ever Long-Term Workforce Plan. I want to thank you all…”

The Minister also offered solidarity with Sri Lanka to promote justice, accountability, and reconciliation- strengthening the ties between the UK and Tamil communities across the world. 

There was a short Bharatnatyam dance presentation by Athulya and Saumya, students Usha Raghavan from Kalasagara UK. Guests before leaving were offered sweet Pongal to taste. 


Prime Minister’s message


Last week, PM Sunak sent a "huge thank you" to the British Tamil community in a video message that was released to mark Pongal, stating that the community has made an "amazing contribution" to the country.

He reportedly said, “Let me first say a huge thank you to British Tamils for the amazing contribution you make in the NHS, education, science, business, public service…

“And as we look ahead, let me also renew my commitment to building a better, brighter future for everyone.”

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