Pongal – traditionally, a celebration of prosperity associated with the harvest of crops is here this season. Since the sun and cow(for tilling) are vital to the growth of crops, this festival is a thanksgiving to the sun god and cow. Pongal in tamil means ‘boiling over’. This is also known as ‘Tamizhar thirunal’ or the festival of tamils. It is celebrated in a grand way in villages by farmers.
It is a very old festival dating back to the Sangam age(between 200- 300 Bc ) when forms of nature were revered and worshipped by men. It marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring- the beginning of ‘ Uttarayana’ during which the sun moves northward for a 6 month period .
On the first day of the tamil month “Thai’ the sun leaves tropic of cancer and enters the sign of Capricorn(makara). Uttarayan is considered auspicious as this is the time when the day of God begins after a six month long night. ( six months are one night and the next six months are one day for god)
The dates of the festival are constant every year between 13 -15th of Jan every year & each day has a special significance.
The first day is bhogi. This is celebrated on the last day of the tamil month Marghazhi. Bhogi suggests the end of old and the birth of new. All old clothes and unwanted clutter are burnt outside the house in a bonfire . The farmers throw away all old marams( used for chaffing the rice) into the bonfire. Houses are cleaned and painted. This day is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra who is the provider of rains. This day along with regular Sambhar and rasam, payasam and vada are also made.
The second day is called Surya pongal. Thanksgiving to the sun god or Surya who is the chief of the hindu solar deity for providing prosperity. On this day Sweet Pongal and Ven pongal(spiced rice) are made with newly harvested rice in mudpots until it bubbles and frothes out of the pot. The bubbling of the pongal represents plentiful and excess yield of the harvest and is considered joyous. It is tradition to shout ‘Pongal – o- Pongal ‘ at the bubbling pot tied with stems and leaves of gingerplant and turmeric plant. On either side of the pot two fully grown sugarcane plants are kept to signify the arrival of sweetness in life.To accomapany ven pongal- a spicy side dish made of 7 vegetables(generally grown on creeper like garden beans, pumpkin, ashgourd, beans, cluster beans and tubers like yam,colocassia, potato, sweet potato etc.)is made
The third day is Mattu pongal. Mattu in tamil is cattle. This occasion is to pay your thanks to the cattle that provide milk and are used to till the lands. The cattle is decorated with bells, balloons and horns are painted in vibrant colors.
Mixed rice like tamarind rice, lemon rice, coconut rice and curd rice are made this day along with aviyal(vegetable medley in coconut gravy) fried papads and vadams( sun- dried wafers fried in oil). All the preparations are then made into picnic hamper and the people living in towns and cities closer to River cauvery carry it to the banks and enjoy their feast on the river banks. This helps in forging sweet bonds between people. Rasam and sambhar are not prepared on mattu pongal.
This day ‘ kanu’ is also celebrated. This is similar to Raksha bandhan of northern India . On this day, sisters pray for the well- being of their brothers. The sisters get up early and place left overs of the previous days food ( they prepare in excess for this purpose) on banana leaves for the crows and birds to eat . They pray to god that their family should be united like the flock of birds.
In the southern districts of Tamilnadu - a bull taming contest called ‘Jalli kattu' is organized where a man has to tame a violent bull . If he tames the bull he gets the prize money tied to the horns of the bull. This is a very dangerous game and every year during pongal it is a popular topic of political debate in the Tamil nadu state assembly whether this game should continue or not?.
It is also the time for kummi and kolattam and other traditional dances. They draw huge kolams (rangoli pattern) in front of the house. This is a symbol of welcoming the guests. Sugar cane is chewed in plenty to denote joy and sweetness which is to come.
Pongal is celebrated throughout India on the same day in different regions of the country with different festivities though the general spirit of happiness, joy and bonhomie remains same across all regions. It is called Bhogali Bihu in Assam, Makar Sankranthi in UP, MP, Karnataka, AP & Bihar, Lohri in Punjab. Kite flying is an other speciality during this time. Since the climate is conducive for flying and your kites soar high in the sky while you tug and have control of the kite.
But today thanks to urbanization ,materialization , deforestation and joint families disintegrating into nuclear families and what with women also working outside home , Most of us (including me ) have totally deviated from the main path of the festivities.
Today the festival has taken a different meaning. Agricultural land is getting converted to concrete jungles/ industrial towns on the outskirts , farmers also changing their vocation due to paucity of rains and selling the land to the urban businessman. Hope things change this season for good and bonds of sweetness and peace prevail.
It is a holiday in most parts of India. An occasion to get up late. Watch TV Programs , eat pongal cooked in cooker, after a siesta go for an outing if you wish / may be a watch a pongal release movie . It has lost its original significance.
Indian festivals are basically an occasion for families to get together , recreate and relish good food. They are great stress busters and act as speed breakers for today’s fast paced life.