Tuesday, 19 April 2016

P for Pongal

Pongal or Thai Pongal is a Tamil Hindu harvest festival. It is a four day festival which falls on January 13 to January 16 according to Georgian Calendar. This corresponds to the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of the Tamil month Thai.  

Thai here is name of the tenth month in the Tamil calendar & Pongal usually means festivity or celebration, more specifically Pongal is translated as "boiling over" or "overflow." Pongal is also the name of a sweetened dish of rice boiled with lentils that is ritually consumed on this day (somewhat same as Kheer in North India). 

Pongal is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Tamil people in the state of Tamil Nadu, Union Territory of Puducherry, Sri Lanka, as well as Tamils worldwide, including those in Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, USA, Singapore, Canada and UK.

( This harvest festival coincides with other festivals in other parts of India like Makar Sankranti (14th jan) – across North & central india, Bihu – Assam, Lohri – HP, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarayana – Gujarat & Rajasthan etc.)

The day marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttarayanam). Thai Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey appreciation to the Sun God for providing the energy for agriculture. Part of the celebration is the boiling of the first rice of the season consecrated to the Sun - the Surya Maangalyam.


The first day is Bhogi - The day preceding Pongal is called Bhogi. On this day people discard old belongings and celebrate new possessions. The disposal of worn-out items is similar to the traditions of Holika in North India. The people assemble at dawn in Tamil Nadu to light a bonfire in order to burn the discards. Houses are cleaned, painted and decorated to give a festive look. The horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in villages.

Preparing Pongal

The second day is Pongal - The main event, also known as Thai Pongal, takes place on the second of the four days. This day coincides with Makara Sankranthi.

Pongal Feast

Tamilians decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with decorative patterns drawn using rice flour called kolams (as rangolis in north) are drawn on doorsteps. Family elders present gifts to the young. Newly cooked rice and savouries prepped for celebrating pongal.

Food - Pongal is a dish esp. prepared on this day, which besides rice and milk include cardamom, jaggery, raisins, Green gram (split), and cashew nuts. Cooking is done in sunlight, usually in a porch or courtyard, as the dish is dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. The cooking is done in a clay pot that is decorated with coloured patterns called kolam. At the same time other participants blow a conch called the sanggu and shout "Pongalo Pongal! Pongal has two variants, one sweet and one savoury. The dish is served on banana leaves.

Mattu Pongal

Third day is Maatu Pongal - Tamils regard cattle as sources of wealth for providing dairy products, fertilizer, and labor for plowing and transportation. On Maatu Pongal, cattle are recognized and afforded affectionately.  Celebrants bathe and decorate their cattle with garlands. Cows are decorated 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. In the evening people pray to Lord Ganesh. One ritual is to light - a torch of coconut leaves and carry it around cattle three times and then run to the border of the village to drop it. This is believed to remove the evil influences caused by the jealousy of other people over the cattle. Other features of the day include games such as the Jallikkattu or taming bull. 

Jallikattu - Taming Bull game

Kanu Pidi is a tradition for women and young girls on this day. During Kanu Pidi women feed birds and pray for their brothers' well being. As part of the "Kaka pidi, Kanu pidi" feast women and girls place a feast of colored rice, cooked vegetables, banana and sweet pongal on ginger or turmeric leaves for crows to share and enjoy. During this time women offer prayers in the hope that brother-sister ties remain strong forever as happens in a crow family.


Fourth day is Kaanum Pongal, the fourth day of the festival, marks the end of Pongal festivities for the year. The word kaanum means "to visit." Many families hold reunions on this day. Brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as affirmation of their filial love. Landlords present gifts of food, clothes and money to their tenants. Villagers visit relatives and friends while in the cities people flock to beaches and theme parks with their families. Celebrants chew sugar cane and again decorate their houses with kolam. Relatives and friends receive thanks for their assistance supporting the harvest.

Aditya Sinha

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