A harvest festival, Pongal is a popular festival in south India. The festival is celebrated in a traditional costume, through dances, bonfires and songs of celebration. People even decorate their homes with beautiful rangolis, using coloured rice and power petals, symbolising the nurturing harvest produced by the farmers. The celebration of the festival of Pongal dates back to 2,000 years, as early as the early Chola empire. Celebrated on the third day of the Thai month, it is important to most Hindu families in Tamil Nadu as they pray to Sun God Surya and Lord Indra. The festival gets its name from the dish that is prepared to mark the occasion.
significance of Pongal
The period, referred to as Uttarayan Punyakalam, is significant to Hindus as it is considered an auspicious occasion in the Hindu mythology. It is believed that this is when Gods wake up from a six-month-long sleep to bestow prosperity and wealth on the people of Earth. On Pongal, Tamil Hindus decorate their houses with banana and mango leaves and use rice powder to make decorative patterns. The festival is of immense value to the people of Tamil Nadu. They thank the Sun God for providing the energy to grow crops, on which the livelihood of farmers depends. It is celebrated by boiling the first rice of the harvest, which is first offered to gods and then distributed among family members. The festival is observed for three or four days in Tamil Nadu, but one or two days in urban locations particularly in the Tamil diaspora community outside South Asia.
The Pongal festival begins on the day called Bhogi Pongal, and it marks the last day of the Tamil month Marghazi. On this day people discard old belongings and celebrate new possessions. The people assemble and light a bonfire in order to burn the heaps of discards. Houses are cleaned, painted and decorated to give a festive look. The horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in villages. New clothes are worn to mark the start of the festival. The deity of the day is Indra – the god of rains, to whom prayers are offered, with thanks and hopes for plentiful rains in the year ahead. Bhogi is also observed on the same day in Andhra Pradesh. In the ceremony called Bhogi Pallu, fruits of the harvest such as regi pallu and sugar cane are collected along with flowers of the season. Money is often placed into a mixture of treats and is poured over children. The children then separate and collect the money and sweet fruits.
Surya Pongal – also called Suryan Pongal or Perum Pongal – is the second and main festive day, and is dedicated to the Hindu god Surya. It is the first day of the Tamil calendar month Tai, and coincides with Makara Sankranthi – a winter harvest festival celebrated throughout India. The day marks the start of the Uttarayana, when the sun enters the 10th house of the zodiac Makara (Capricorn).The day is celebrated with family and friends, with the Pongal dish prepared in a traditional earthen pot in an open space in the view of the sun. The pot is typically decorated by tying a turmeric plant or flower garland, and near the cooking stove are placed two or more tall fresh sugarcane stalks. The pongal dish is traditionally prepared by boiling milk, in a group setting. When it starts to bubble, freshly harvested rice grains and cane sugar jaggery are added to the pot. As the dish begins to boil and overflow out of the vessel, one or more participants blow a conch called the sanggu while others shout with joy “Pongalo Pongal”! – lit. “may this rice boil over”. This is symbolism for the shared wish of greater fortunes in the year ahead. In rural settings, the gathered women or neighbors sing “kuruvai trills” (traditional songs) while the pongal dish is cooking. The dish is offered to the gods and goddesses, sometimes to the village cows, and then shared by the community. Men traditionally offer prayers to the sun with the namaskaram posture in open, and then proceed to eat their meal. The Pongal dish is first offered to Surya and Ganesha, and then shared with the gathered friends and family.Tamilians decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves and embellish the entrance space before homes, corridors or doors with decorative floral, festive or geometric patterns drawn using colored rice flour. These are called kolams.
Mattu Pongal is celebrated the day after Surya Pongal. Mattu refers to “cow, bullock, cattle”, and Tamil Hindus regard cattle as sources of wealth for providing dairy products, fertilizer, transportation and agricultural aid. On Mattu Pongal, cattle are decorated – sometimes with flower garlands or painted horns, they are offered bananas, a special meal and worshipped. Some decorate their cows with manjalthanni (turmeric water) and oil. Shikakai apply kungumam (kumkum) to their foreheads, paint their horns, and feed them a mixture of venn pongal, jaggery, honey, banana and other fruits. Others bathe their cattle and prostrate before them with words of thanks for the help with the harvest. In cities, the day marks the ritual visit to nearby temples and prayers there. Temples and communities hold processions by parading icons from the sanctum of the temple in wooden chariots, drama-dance performances encouraging social gatherings and renewal of community bonds.Other events during Pongal include community sports and games such as cattle race, the Jallikattu. The major cultural festivals on Pongal occur near Madurai.
Kaanum Pongal or Kanum Pongal, sometimes called the Kanu Pongal, the fourth day of the festival, marks the end of Pongal festivities for the year. The word kanum (kaanum) in this context means “to visit.” Many families hold reunions on this day. Communities organize social events to strengthen mutual bonds. Villagers cut and consume farm fresh sugarcane during social gatherings. Relatives, friends and neighbours visit to greet, while youngsters go out to meet seniors among the relatives and neighbourhoods to pay respects and seek blessings, while some elders give the visiting children some pocket change as a gift. Kanu Pidi is a tradition observed on Mattu Pongal by women and young girls. They place a leaf of turmeric plant outside their home, and feed the leftover pongal dish and food from Surya Pongal to the birds, particularly crow. They pray for their brothers’ well being, in a manner similar to Bhaiya dooj in north-India Brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as affirmation of their filial love.