Pongal Festival – The Harvest Festival of South India
Pongal or Thai Pongal, a four days long festival, is one of the major festivals celebrated in South India, particularly by the Tamil communities. The festival is dedicated to Sun God praying and thanking him for the abundance in agricultural produce. Pongal is observed on the first day of the month of Thai (according to Tamil calendar), usually falling on January 14th or 15th every year. This harvest festival is celebrated throughout India under many regional names. Pongal is Tamil Nadu’s Harvest Thanksgiving Festival.
Pongal – Tamilar Thirunal
“Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” is a famous Tamil quote that is signifying, ‘the beginning of Tamil Month Thai will make ready for new opportunities’. Pongal Festival is celebrated to mark the withdrawal of the South-east storms and just as the procuring of Harvest.
The terms “Thai Pongal” are derived from Tamil language. ‘Thai’ refers to the name of the tenth month as per Tamil calendar and ‘Pongal’ in Tamil means ‘to boil’ or ‘overflow’. Pongal also refers to a sweet dish of rice boiled in milk and jaggery that forms a vital part of this festival.
From the various inscriptions and texts found in Hindu temples, the festival of Pongal can be dated back to the Chola period in the least. As per Hindu mythology, Basava or the bull was once informed by Lord Shiva to visit the Earth and ask humans to have an oil massage and bath every day.
Days of the Festival
Pongal festival is observed for three days beginning with Bhogi Pongal, followed by Surya Pongal, Mattu Pongal and Kanum Pongal.
Bhogi Pongal marks the last day of the Tamil month Margazhi (December-January) and the first day of Pongal celebrations. Houses are cleaned, painted and decorated, old belongings are discarded, new clothes are worn and women dance around a bonfire singing songs in praise of Nature and Gods marking the start of the festival. Prayers are offered to Lord Indra (The God of Rains) thanking and hoping for abundant rains in the forthcoming year.
Surya Pongal or Perum Pongal marks the main day of the festival. The festival falls on the first day of the Tamil month Thai (January-February). It coincides with Makara Sankranthi, the winter festival celebrated throughout India. As the name suggests, this festival is dedicated to the Sun God.
Preparation of Pongal dish in earthen pots, artistic Kolams or designs in front of the house, traditional attires, celebration with family and friends, and floral decorations forms a part of Surya Pongal.
Mattu Pongal is celebrated the day after Surya Pongal. Mattu in Tamil means ‘cow, cattle, or bullock’. This day is dedicated to cattle thanking them for their help with the harvest. Decorating the cattles, offering them special meals, worshipping them, and events that include community games and sports forms a part of the celebrations. Mattu pongal is all about fun, frolic and festivities.
Kanum Pongal marks the end of Pongal festivities for the year. The word in ‘Kanum’ in Tamil means ‘to visit’. Family reunions, social events and gatherings form a part of Mattu Pongal.
Pongal – The Dish
A significant part of the Pongal festivities is the preparation of the sweet dish Pongal. Freshly harvested rice is boiled in milk and jaggery (raw cane sugar). Other ingredients that add to the taste are cardamom, raisins, cashew nuts, coconut and ghee. Cooking of Pongal is done in sunlight, usually near a temple or in a porch or courtyard at home, as the dish is a dedication to the Sun God.
Pongal is cooked in a claypot which is decorated with flowers, leaves and Rangoli (kolam).
Pongal, more than just a festival symbolizes the celebration of life. It is the most cheerful way to start the year ahead on a thankful note. Pongal is all about embracing the goodness around us and having a gala time with friends and families.