Pongal (also known as Thai Pongal) is a four-day harvest festival celebrated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The origins of the Pongal festival are said to date back to more than 1,000 years ago. The festival is dedicated to the Sun God, as a form of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest, and is usually celebrated in mid-January. It is one of the most important festivals for Tamil people in India and world over.
The first day or the day preceding the main Pongal festival is called ‘Bhogi’. On this day, people discard old things (which are generally burnt in bonfires), clean and paint their houses and buy new clothes. Cattle and bullocks are decked up was well.
The main event or Pongal takes place on the second day. The Tamil word ‘pongal’ means ‘to overflow’, which signifies bounty and prosperity. To mark this, milk is boiled in a pot. When it starts to boil, freshly harvested rice grains are added to the pot. It is important that the milk be allowed to bubble and spill over the sides of the pot – it is said to mark a year of plenty. As the milk boils, family members shout “Pongalo Pongal!” The rice is then cooked and made into a dish called Pongal – which is cooked with lentils, cumin and crushed pepper into a savoury version, or with jaggery to make a sweet version. Both dishes are the main highlights of the festive meal. Freshly cut pieces of sugarcane are also served through the day.
Maatu Pongal is celebrated the day after Thai Pongal, and cattle are the central focus. On Maatu Pongal, cattle are bathed, decorated and treated affectionately. Another practice followed on this day is ‘Kanu Pidi’, wherein women put out cooked rice to feed birds and pray for their brothers’ well being.
Kaanum Pongal, the last day of the festival, marks the end of Pongal festivities. Many families hold reunions on this day, and brothers give gifts to their sisters.