Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated with religious fervor across Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India.
The word Pongal, in both Telugu and Tamil, signifies the boiling over of the rice in the cooking pot. Though little is known about the origin of Pongal, it is known to a Dravidian harvest festival that has survived for ages. Pongal also marks the beginning of a New Year and is the day to praise and thank God with full devotion, faith and sincerity. The festival covers all living beings, including humans, cattle and birds and crops. Falling just after the winter solstice and a bountiful harvest, Pongal marks the season of celebration and joyous activities and is celebrated continuously for four days.
Thai Pongal, as it is popularly called, is synonymous to Makar Sankranti, the harvest festival celebrated in various regions of India, on 14th of January, every year. Pongal is typically celebrated from 13th of January to 16th of January, every year.
The merrymaking starts with Bhogi, the first day of Thai Pongal. Observed as thanks giving occasion to Lord Indra (the God of Heaven), Bhogi is the day when people burn the old and unwanted materials, like clothing and furbishes.
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 please him, so that he blesses the devotees with the plentiful harvest. Pongal also signifies the beginning of a New Year, according to the Malayalam calendar. A huge bonfire is lit at home and kept burning throughout the night. Boys beat little buffalo-hide drums, known as 'Bhogi Kottus', whiel lighting the fire and make merry. The houses are then cleaned till they shine and decorated with Kolams, using rice flour. Yellow pumpkin flowers are set in cow-dung balls, in the middle of these designs. The harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in for the next day.
The second day of Pongal, known as 'Surya Pongal', is dedicated to the Sun God. 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. A colorful sugarcane market is also set up on this day. It is said that Lord Sundareshwar performed a miracle in the Madurai temple, on this day, and breathed life into a stone elephant that ate sugarcanes. One can see the depiction of the event in the Meenakshi temple.
The third day, known as 'Mattu Pongal', is dedicated to the cattle and other domestic animals. Shepherds pay thanks to their cows and bulls, wash them, 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 also 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 lay their hands on the money bags tied to the horns of ferocious bulls single-handedly. Lord Ganesha and Goddess Parvati are also worshipped on this day. At some places, this day is celebrated as Kanu Pongal, when girls feed colored balls of cooked rice to birds and crows and pray for their brothers' happiness
The fourth day is observed as Kaanum Pongal, which is also known by the name of Karinaal or Thiruvalluvar Day in few places. Kaanum Pongal is known as Karinaal in some parts of Tamil Nadu. Sun God is worshipped on the day. Along with the prasads made for the festival, the deity is also offered Sarkarai Pongal, a sweet dish prepared by using rice and jaggery. In addition to this, sugarcane is also offered to the lord. Thereafter, the Sarkarai Pongal, prasad and sugar cane are offered to the people, who have gathered while performing the rituals. People in Tamil Nadu consider Kaanum Pongal as an auspicious day to visit their long lost friends and far away relatives. The performance of folk dances and folk songs on Kaanum Pongal is part of the celebrations.
Sarkarai Pongal is offered to Sun God, as it is one of the important rituals of the fourth day of the festival. Often referred to as 'Tamil Thirunal' (the festival of Tamils), Pongal removes the barrier of caste and religion. People, irrespective of their community, celebrate the festival with gusto. Pongal boasts of a vibrant history, which dates back to many centuries.
History & Origin Of Pongal Festival
The origin of Pongal can be traced back to Sangam Age, a period extending from 200 BC to 300 AD. The festival was celebrated as Thai Niradal. During the period, unmarried girls prayed for agricultural prosperity of the country and for the purpose, they observed penance during the Tamil month of Margazhi,
corresponding (December-January). All through the month, they abstained themselves from the consumption of milk and milk products. They didn't oil their hair throughout the month. The use of harsh words was strictly refrained by them. Ceremonial bath in the early morning was part of the ritual of the penance. The unmarried women worshipped Goddess Katyayani, one of the nine forms of Ma Durga. They carved image of the deity out of sand. The women broke their fast on the first day of the month of Thai (January-February). It was believed that the fast would bring abundant wealth, prosperity and bountiful crop for the year ahead. Tamil literature has mentioned the celebration of the festival of Thai Niradal and the observance of the penance, known as Pavai Nonbu. Both the festival and the penance were vividly described in Andal's Tiruppavai and Manickavachakar's Tiruvembavai. Chola King Kiluttunga used to present lands to the Veeraraghava temple at Tiruvallur, especially for the celebration of Pongal.