Pongal is one of the most popular harvest festivals of South India, mainly of Tamil Nadu. 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. Other traditions of the celebration include drawing of Kolam, swinging & cooking of delicious Pongal.
History of PONGAL
Historical and epigraphic evidence suggests to the existence of “Pongal” even during Sangam period (5th Century BCE to 3rd Century CE) and during Medieval Chola Dynasty (up to 13th century CE).
During the Sangam era, it was observed by the maidens by the name “Pavai Nonbu” in the Thai month of Tamil calendar. Young girls prayed for rain in the hope of a good harvest and prosperity. For a month they refrained from consuming milk and milk products and also exercised caution to not to usher harsh words. Epigraphic evidences suggest that during Medieval Chola dynasty the festival was celebrated as “Puthiyeedu”. There are also evidences to suggest land donations by Chola kings to temples as part of Pongal or Puthiyeedu celebrations.
WHAT DOES “PONGAL” MEANS?
“Pongal” in Tamil means to ‘over flow’ or to ‘spill over’. It is a reference to the rice dish which is customarily prepared during the festival. A mix of rice, milk, jaggery, lentils, nuts etc is allowed to boil in an earthen pot till the contents get cooked and spilled outside the pot. The dish is then served to family and friends. The custom of letting the dish spill over is to indicate abundance and is believed to bring prosperity.
How is it Celebrated?
According to Hindu mythology, this is when the day of the gods begins, after a six-month-long night. The festival is spread over three days and is the most important and most fervently-celebrated harvest festival of South India. A special puja is performed on the first day of Pongal before the cutting of the paddy. Farmers worship the sun and the earth by anointing their plows and sickles with sandal wood paste. It is with these consecrated tools that the newly-harvested rice is cut.
Each of the three days is marked by different festivities. The first day, Bhogi Pongal, is a day for the family. Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God. Boiled milk and jaggery is offered to the Sun God. The third day of Pongal, Mattu Pongal, is for the worship of the cattle known as Mattu. Cattle are bathed, their horns polished and painted in bright colors, and garlands of flowers placed around their necks. The Pongal that has been offered to the Gods is then given to cattle and birds to eat.
WHEN/WHY IS PONGAL FESTIVAL CELEBRATED?
“Pongal” or “Thai Pongal” is a four days celebration, beginning on the day when Sun transits into Makara Rashi. Sun’s transit into Makara Rash marks the end of Winter Solstice and the beginning of longer and warmer days after a long winter. As per the Tamil calendar “Pongal” begins on the last day of month Maargazhi and lasts for three days into the month of Thai; hence, the name “Thai Pongal”.
What is the Pongal Dish?
The most important part of the Pongal festival is cooking the Pongal dish. Venpongal is made with rice mixed with moong daal, and cooked with ghee, cashew nuts, raisins, and spices. There's also a sweet version of Pongal called Sakkarai Pongal. It's made with jaggery (a type of unrefined sugar) instead of spices. The Pongal is cooked in clay pots, on stoves made with stones and wood used as fuel. When it starts to boil over, everyone shouts out "pongalo Pongal". Beautifully decorated clay pots are sold in markets all over Tamil Nadu in the lead up to the festival.
What Do People Do?
Pongal is a major celebration in India and people celebrate it for about four days. The first day is called Bhogi. Many people burn and get rid of old household items and purchase new household items on this day. This marks the start of a new cycle. The second day is Perum, also known as Surya Pongal, and is the most important day of Pongal. Many people worship the sun god, Lord Surya by offering prayers on this day. Many people also wear new clothes and women decorate houses with Kolam (designs) using rice flour and red clay.Mattu Pongal is the third day and includes worshipping cattle because it is believed that cattle help give a good harvest. The fourth day is called Kanum Pongal, which is when many people go on picnic and spend time with families and friends. The Pongal festival also includes exchanging gifts, dancing, and bull taming contests.
Legends of Pongal
The two most popular legends of Pongal are stories related to Lord Shiva and Lord Indra,According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food. Thus the association of this day with cattle.Another legend of Lord Indra and Lord Krishna also led to Pongal celebrations. It is said when Lord Krishna were in his childhood, he decided to teach a lesson to Lord Indra who became arrogant after becoming the king of all deities. Lord Krishna asked all the cowherds to stop worshiping Lord Indra. This angered Lord Indra and sent forth his clouds for thunder-storms and 3 days continuous rains. Lord Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan to save all the humans. Later, Lord Indra realized his mistake and divine power of Krishna.