Pongal Festival Pongal is a four day long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India. For as long as people have been planting and gathering food, there has been some form of Harvest Festival. Pongal, one of the most important popular Hindu festivals of the year. This four-day festival of thanksgiving to nature takes its name from the Tamil word meaning “to boil” and is held in the month of Thai (January-February) during the season when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane, and turmeric (an essential ingredient in Tamil cooking) are harvested.
Mid-January is an important time in the Tamil calendar. The harvest festival, Pongal, falls typically on the 14th or the 15th of January and is the quintessential `Tamil Festival’. Pongal is a harvest festival, a traditional occasion for giving thanks to nature, for celebrating the life cycles that give us grain. Tamilians say `Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum’, and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of the Tamil month Thai that begins on Pongal day. This is traditionally the month of weddings. This is not a surprise in a largely agricultural community — the riches gained from a good harvest form the economic basis for expensive family occasions like weddings.
The First DayThis first day is celebrated as Bhogi festival in honor of Lord Indra, the supreme ruler of clouds that give rains. Homage is paid to Lord Indra for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land. Another ritual observed on this day is Bhogi Mantalu, when useless household articles are thrown into a fire made of wood and cow-dung cakes. Girls dance around the bonfire, singing songs in praise of the gods, the spring and the harvest. The significance of the bonfire, in which is burnt the agricultural wastes and firewood is to keep warm during the last lap of winter.
The Second DayOn the second day of Pongal, the puja or act of ceremonial worship is performed when rice is boiled in milk outdoors in a earthenware pot and is then symbolically offered to the sun-god along with other oblations. All people wear traditional dress and markings, and their is an interesting ritual where husband and wife dispose off elegant ritual utensils specially used for the puja. In the village, the Pongal ceremony is carried out more simply but with the same devotion. In accordance with the appointed ritual a turmeric plant is tied around the pot in which the rice will be boiled. The offerings include the two sticks of sugar-cane in background and coconut and bananas in the dish. A common feature of the puja, in addition to the offerings, is the kolam, the auspicious design which is traditionally traced in white lime powder before the house in the early morning after bathing.
The Third DayThe third day is known as Mattu Pongal, the day of Pongal for cows. Multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands are tied around the neck of the cattle and then are worshiped. They are fed with Pongal and taken to the village centers. The resounding of their bells attract the villagers as the young men race each other’s cattle. The entire atmosphere becomes festive and full of fun and revelry. Arati is performed on them, so as to ward off the evil eye. According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food. Thus the association of this day with cattle.
The Fourth DayThe Fourth day is known as Knau or Kannum Pongal day. On this day, a turmeric leaf is washed and is then placed on the ground. On this leaf are placed, the left overs of sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice colored red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains. In Tamil Nadu women perform this ritual before bathing in the morning. All the women, young and old, of the house assemble in the courtyard. The rice is placed in the centre of the leaf, while the women ask that the house and family of their brothers should prosper. Arati is performed for the brothers with turmeric water, limestone and rice, and this water is sprinkled on the kolam in front of the house. Traditions & Customs
Inspite of immense urbanization, the traditions and customs attached to the harvest festival of Pongal has not diminished. Though the nature of these tradition and customs has changed, the glitter of this festival has not dimmed. The fast changing times notwithstanding, certain things do not change. The way we celebrate the festivals, for instance. The festival of Pongal captures the quintessence of south Indian culture in all its entirety and traditional practices and customs continue to hold their own even today.
The spirit is alive and Pongal is still treated as a time to discard the old and welcome the new. The new crop that is harvested is cooked and offered to the Almighty. Celebrated for four days, the various traditions and customs of this harvest festival are:
Bhogi PongalThe first day of Pongal known as ‘Bhogi Pongal’ is a day for family gathering and is dedicated to Lord Indra, the king of the deities and God of the Clouds and Rains. Offerings are made to him to please him so that he blesses us for the plentiful harvest. It is also the beginning of the New Year according to the Malayalam calendar and before sunrise, a huge bonfire of useless things in home is lit that is kept burning throughout the night. All the time, boys beat little buffalo-hide drums known as ‘Bhogi Kottus’. The houses are then cleaned till they shine and are decorated with Kolams painted using rice four. There are yellow pumpkin flowers are set in cow-dung balls in the middle of these designs.
Surya PongalThe second day of Pongal known as ‘Surya Pongal’ is dedicated to the Sun God. The granaries are kept full on this day and Sun God with his rays are painted on a plank as he is worshiped with the birth of the new auspicious month of
Thai. Since the word ‘Ponga’ means ‘to boil’ representing plentiful and excess yield, a special dish is cooked on this day in a new mud-pot that comes in innovative shapes and have artistic designs on them called ‘Pongapani’. The special dish is called ‘Sarkkarai Pongal’ and is offered to Sun God with sugarcane sticks. It is said that Lord Sundareshwar performed a miracle on this day in the
Madurai temple and breathed life into a stone elephant who ate sugarcanes. One can see the depiction of the event in the Meenakshi temple.
Mattu PongalThe third day known as ‘Mattu Pongal’ is dedicated to the cattle as cowherds and shepherds pay thanks to their cows and bulls, paint their horns and cover them with shining metal caps. They are fed ‘Pongal’ and tinkling bells are tied around their neck. Cattle races are conducted and in the game called ‘Manji Virattu’ groups of young men chase running bulls. Bull fights called ‘Jallikattu’ are also arranged at some places where young men have to take the money bags tied to the horns of ferocious bulls single-handedly and without the use of arms. Lord Ganesha and Goddess Parvati are also worshiped on this day. At some other places, this day is celebrated as Kanu Pongal when girls feed colored balls of cooked rice to the birds and crows and pray for their brothers’ happiness and that they always remember them.
Kaanum PongalThe fourth day is termed as Kaanum Pongal. On this day, people travel to see other family members. On this day, the younger members of the family pay homage to the elders, and the elders thank them by giving token money. Another thing many do is leave food out on banana leaves for birds to take. Many South Indian people will take the first bit of rice cooked in any given day and set it outside for the crows to take, so this is not necessarily a habit only for Pongal.
What is Pongal? Pongal is the only festival of Hindu that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated on the fourteenth of January every year. Pongal has astronomical significance: it marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the Sun’s movement northward for a six month period. In Hinduism, Uttarayana is considered auspicious, as opposed to Dakshinaayana, or the southern movement of the sun. All important events are scheduled during this period. Makara Sankranthi refers to the event of the Sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.
In Hindu temples bells, drums, clarinets and conch shells herald the joyous occasion of Pongal. To symbolize a bountiful harvest, rice is cooked in new pots until they boil over. Some of the rituals performed in the temple include the preparation of rice, the chanting of prayers and the offering of vegetables, sugar cane and spices to the gods. Devotees then consume the offerings to exonerate themselves of past sins.
Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving farmers a break from their monotonous routine. Farmers also perform puja to some crops, signaling the end of the traditional farming season. It also sets the pace for a series of festivals to follow in a calendar year. In fact, four festivals are celebrated in Tamil Nadu for four consecutive days in that week. ‘Bogi’ is celebrated on January 13, ‘Pongal’ on Jan 14, ‘Maattuppongal’ on Jan 15, and ‘Thiruvalluvar Day’ on Jan 16.
The festival is celebrated for four days. On, the first day, Bhogi, the old clothes and materials are thrown away and fired, marking the beginning of a new life. The second day, the Pongal day, is celebrated by boiling fresh milk early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel – a tradition that is the literal translation for Pongal. People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each other’s homes, and exchange greetings. The third day, Mattu Pongal, is meant to offer thanks to the cows and buffaloes, as they are used to plough the lands. On the last day, Kanum Pongal, people go out to picnic.
A festival called Jalli katthu is held in
Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur,all in Tamil Nadu, on this day. Bundles of money are tied to the horns of Pongal ferocious bulls which the villagers try to retrieve. Everyone joins in the community meal, at which the food is made of the freshly harvested grain. This day is named and celebrated as Tamiliar Thirunal in a fitting manner through out Tamil Nadu.
Thus, the harvest festival of Pongal symbolizes the veneration of the first fruit. The crop is harvested only after a certain time of the year, and cutting the crop before that time is strictly prohibited. Even though Pongal was originally a festival for the farming community, today it is celebrated by all. In south
India, all three days of Pongal are considered important. However, those south Indians who have settled in the north usually celebrate only the second day. Coinciding with Makara Sankranti and Lohri of the north, it is also called Pongal Sankranti.
Meaning & Significance Thai Pongal is an occasion for family re-unions and get-together. Old enmities, personal animosities and rivalries are forgotten. Estrangements are healed and reconciliation effected. Indeed, Thai Pongal is a festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion crystallized in the last hymn on unity in the Indian spiritual text the Rig Veda. Thus, love and peace are the central theme of Thai Pongal.