Pongal is one of the most popular harvest festivals of South India, mainly of Tamil Nadu. Pongal marks the first day of the sun’s journey in every year towards the northern hemisphere, also known as Makar Sankranti.
Pongal falls in the mid-January every year and marks the auspicious beginning of Uttarayan – Sun’s journey northwards.
Pongal festival lasts for four days. This four days long festival of Tamil Nadu is celebrated for showing gratitude to nature.
The literal meaning of Pongal is “spilling over” and it had been named so, because of the tradition of boiling rice in a pot until it starts overflowing.
The celebrations of Sangam Era led to today’s Pongal celebrations. As part of the festivities, maidens of the Sangam era observed ‘Pavai Nonbu’ at the time of Thai Niradal which was a major festival during the reign of the Pallavas (4th to 8th Century AD).
It was observed during the Tamil month of Margazhi (December-January).During this festival young girls prayed for rain and prosperity of the country. Throughout the month, they avoided milk and milk products.
They worshiped the idol of Goddess Katyayani, which would be carved out of wet sand. They ended their penance on the first day of the month of Thai (January-February).
The penance was to bring abundant rains to flourish the paddy. These traditions and customs of ancient times gave rise to Pongal celebrations.
Andal’s Tiruppavai and Manickavachakar’s Tiruvembavai vividly describe the festival of Thai Niradal and the ritual of observing Pavai Nonbu.
According to an inscription found in the Veeraraghava temple at Tiruvallur, the Chola King Kiluttunga used to gift lands to the temple specially for the Pongal celebrations.
Pongal is a four-days-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 the 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 ‘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 the Surya Pongal day.
The First Day
This 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 and to inculcate the habbit of waste disposal.
The Second Day
On the second day of Pongal, namely surya pongal, the puja or act of ceremonial worship is performed when rice is boiled in milk outdoors in an earthenware pot and is then symbolically offered to the sun-god along with other oblations.
All people wear traditional dress and markings, and there is an interesting ritual where husband and wife join in process of cooking pongal, a turmeric plant is essentially tied around the pot in which the rice is 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 Day
The 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 they 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 evils.
The Fourth Day
The Fourth day is known as Knau or Kannum Pongal day.
On the day of Kaanum Pongal, devotees clean their homes and decorate it with ‘kolam’. On this day, Kolam of Sun God is drawn as the prime deity in the month of Thai is Sun God. Special puja is done and Sarkarai Pongal is made as offering to Sun God.
The most important event observed on Kaanum Pongal is visiting the banks of River Kaveri. It is celebrated with friends and families just like ‘Bhai Dhuj’ and ‘Raksha Bandhan’. A scrumptious meal is prepared on this day. People pack lunches and then enjoy it with their families on the bank of Kaveri River. In some places, special prayers and pujas are offered to Mother Kaveri.
‘Kumi patu’ or ‘Kummippatu’ is another ritual observed on Kaanum Pongal. This ritual is very predominant in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu and is done for speedy marriage of young girls whose marriages are delayed for some reasons. During Kumi Patu, the girl is made to sit in the middle of the circle and women dance around her to the tunes of Kumi patu.
The festival of Kaanum is the Tamil way of celebrating Brother’s Day. On this day women feed the birds with rice and pray for the prosperity of their brothers. This ritual is known as ‘Kanu’. Sisters also visit the home of their brothers to inquire about their well-being. Women also eat food made on the previous day for long life and well being of their brothers.
Kaanum Pongal is the day of merriment. People visit each other’s home and mingle freely even with strangers. New relationships are initiated and on Kaanum Pongal people believe it auspicious to make marriage proposals.
On the day of Kaanum Pongal, brothers give gifts to their married sisters in exchange of love. Landlords also give gits in the form of money, clothes and food to their tenants. The younger’s in the family pay their respect to elders and get a token of money as blessings in return.