|Pongal is one of the important festivals in India, and is the primary festival celebrated in the southern state of Tamilnadu. It can be called as the “Harvest Festival” or “Thanksgiving Festival of India”, paying tribute to the Sun, cattle and rain that favored the year’s harvest. Pongal literally means “boiling over” of milk with rice during the Tamil month “Thai”, hence it is also referred to as “Thai Pongal”.The date of the festival is calculated based on the solar calender; typically, the festival date falls either on 14th or 15th of January.It is celebrated with different names in different states like ‘Bhogali Bihu’ in the North Eastern State of Assam, Lohri in Punjab, Sankranthi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Makar Sankranthi in rest of the North Indian states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.FOUR DAYS FESTIVAL
The festival is actually a four-day celebration, in which Pongal festival falls on the second day.
First day – Bhogi: The first day of celebration is Bhogi. On this day, people remove all the unwanted materials from their homes and burn it in fire early morning.
Second day – Pongal: The second day of the festival is the main Pongal festival. This is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month, Thai. People wake up early in the morning, take oil bath and wear new dresses. One of the main attractions of the festival is Kolam, which is an elaborated design drawn in front of the doors with colorful designs. In midst of kolam, cow dung is placed and a cucumber flower is fixed into it, a gesture of inviting friends and relatives. This festival is also popular for sugar cane that is offered to God during pooja.
A pot made of clay will be placed outside the home facing east. Pongal is cooked by adding rice with milk and when the mixture boils and flows over, people call out, “Pongalo Pongal” thanking the Sun God and seeking his blessings for the upcoming year as well. Jaggery, cashew nuts and dry grapes are added to this Sweet Pongal and it is distributed to the neighbors, friends and to the relatives.
Third day – Maatu Pongal: The third day of celebration is Maatu Pongal, which is celebrated to thank cattle, especially cows and bulls, which assisted the cultivation process. The cattle will be decorated on this day with paint and bells. People worship cow on this day considering it as the Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of prosperity).
During this day, a courageous game called “Jalli Kattu” is conducted in Tamilnadu, mainly in Madurai district and partly in Tanjore and Tiruchirrapalli. Bundle of money will be tied to the horns of the ferocious bulls and crowded men in the ground wrest with the animal to retrieve this money. The game carries the risk of serious and many times fatal injuries, however many young men participate with great zeal.
Fourth day – Kaanum Pongal: The fourth day of celebration is called as Kaanum Pongal, also called Karinaal. The government of Tamilnadu celebrates this day as Thiruvalluvar Day, a tribute to the great Tamil poet. This day is celebrated by women similar to Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dhuj in North India. Women wake up early in the morning and pray to God for giving prosperity and long life to their brethren.
Pongal is also associated with the annual cycle of seasons. It not only marks the reaping of the harvest, but also the withdrawal of southeast monsoon from South India.
There are a few legends connected to the Pongal Festival.
Legend of Lord Krishna
The first day of Bhogi festival has an association with the legend of Lord Krishna. During those days, people used to worship Lord Indira, the king of the deities. The honor given to Lord Indira makes him full of pride and arrogance. To make him realize the fact of the Supreme, Lord Krishna plays a trick. He informs cowherds to pray the Mount Govardhan instead of Lord Indira. When Indira comes to know about this, he gets angry and curses the village with heavy floods that washes away the whole village. To protect the people from the flood, Lord Krishna lifts the Govardhan Parvath (Hill) with his little finger and saves all the village people. The rain continues for three days and as soon as Indira realizes his mistake, the rain stops. Indira comes to Lord Krishna and begs for his forgiveness. Since then, this day is celebrated as Bhogi festival, a day when the good triumphs evil and this festival is dedicated to Lord Indira.
Legend of Lord Shiva
Another legend says that Lord Shiva had once informed his animal vehicle, Basava (bull) to go to the earth and deliver the message to the people to have oil bath everyday and eat once in a month. Basava announces people to eat daily and have oil bath once in a month. The oversight of baffled bovine enrages Lord Shiva and he curses Basava to stay on the earth itself and to work hard in lands for the cultivation of grains forever. Thus, Maatu Pongal has an association with cattle.
Thai Pongal is an occasion for family re-unions and get-together. Old enmities, personal hostilities and rivalries are forgotten, dislikes are healed and rapprochement is effected.
So, Thai Pongal is also a festival of freedom and unity. Thus, love and peace are the central theme of Pongal.