Pongal is one of India's most popular festivals and is extensively observed by Tamilians all over the world. This four-day festival is typically celebrated once the harvest period is over. There is so much that goes into making Pongal the wholesome celebration it is, from the scrumptious delicacies to decorating the cattle. Here’s what celebrating Pongal in Tamil Nadu is all about.
The word ‘Pongal’ means ‘to boil’ in Tamil. The Tamil solar calendar places the celebration of Pongal in the Thai month, which is around mid-January and mid-February. Plus, the animals that helped the farmers throughout the year are also revered.
Pongal lasts for four days and each day is commemorated by a distinct celebration. The first day is called the Bhogi Pongal, the second day is Thai Pongal, the third day is Mattu Pongal, and the fourth day is Kaanum Pongal. Pongal is supposed to have been celebrated since the Sangam Age nearly two millennia ago and the tradition continues even today.
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India is an agricultural nation, and most of its festivals strongly connect with nature and agriculture. From Lohri in Punjab, Makar Sankrati in Maharashtra to Bihu in Assam, and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, agriculture is truly celebrated in the country. Farmers celebrate to thank the Sun God and Lord Indra for assisting them in growing their crops.
Additionally, the Pongal season marks the end of the previous harvesting season. The harvest of rice is often finished by November or December and sugarcane harvesting begins in January. Therefore sugarcane and rice play a major role in the Pongal celebration as the main components of Sakkarai Pongal (a sweet dish made with rice, moong, jaggery, ghee, and cardamom) are jaggery and rice.
During this time, tuber plants including ginger, turmeric, chembu (taro root), and sweet potatoes are also harvested. Crops like avarai, bananas, pumpkins, etc. are also in great supply, opening the door for spectacular feasts. This is the time for new beginnings and people buy new clothes and start the new season with fresh thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and positivity.
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According to some historians, the Pongal festival dates back to the Sangam Age. Historically, it's also referred to as the “Dravidian Harvest festival”. But according to others, the festival dates back at least 2,000 years and was an occasion known as Thai Niradal. There are ample of stories revolving around the origin of this festival. One of the legends is that during this time, young girls took up fasts as penance to pray for the kingdom’s agricultural success, during the month of Margazhi.
On the other hand, according to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva once asked Basava (Bull) to visit Earth. Basava had to request the people of the Earth to take daily oil baths and have a meal once a month. However, Basava told the people to eat every day and take an oil bath once a month. This enraged Lord Shiva, who then cursed Basava to live on Earth forever. He further commanded that Basava would plow the fields and assist the people in increasing food production.
Besides this, Pongal also has an astronomical significance. It marks the start of the Uttarayana, a period of six months when the Sun advances toward the north and is said to be a sign of good luck. New yields of rice is cooked with milk, ghee, jaggery, and cardamom in fresh pots till they boil over the pots, to signify a bountiful harvest.
Today, Pongal is celebrated all across the globe and isn't simply a festival that is celebrated in rural Tamil Nadu. Elaborate preparations are made a few days prior to the actual days of celebration. Let's have a look at some of the rituals, traditions, and customs related to the celebration of Pongal in Tamil Nadu.
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Most homes have lovely Kolam designs (decorative designs formed on the floor using rice flour) adorning the entrance. Traditionally, rice flour is used to draw kolam in the hopes that insects will eat it and bless the home. The kolam had sociological significance as well, and traditional households still draw it religiously daily in the morning. A pile of cow dung in the center of the Kolam holds a five-petalled pumpkin blossom, a symbol of fertility and a gift of affection to the deity.
The preparation of sweets, snacks, and other delights as well as buying new pairs of clothes for everyone in the house is a must. Along with new clothes, buying new electronics or household items is a kind of ritual that is followed. This signifies growth and prosperity and these items are believed to bring in good luck.
Women usually wear flowers in their hair as it's considered to be lucky and signifies happiness and a bright marital future. Dinner prepared from the harvested crop is enjoyed by family and friends. Apart from all of this, you will also find music playing loudly in the background at all times. (Yep, no surprises there!)
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Days and weeks ahead of Bhogi Pongal, people clean their homes and its surroundings. People also throw away old clothes, bedsheets, and other items that they would not be using or needing in the future. The discarded dry material from the house are gathered in a pile for the Bhogi Pongal bonfire. “Pazhaiyana kazhithalum, puthiyana pukuthalum” in Tamil translates to “getting rid of the old and ushering in the new” which is what Bhogi Pongal is all about. The Pongal festival denotes the beginning of new life.
Typically, the bonfire is lit before sunrise and all of the family members stay up all night. Children dance around a fire and play makeshift instruments. On this day, everyone has a delicious vegetarian feast and dons new clothing. Most times, the feast features food items like Moar Kozhambu (made from buttermilk), curries cooked from locally grown seasonal vegetables, Boli (a round, soft, filled sweet), the customary Vadai-Payasam-Appalam, and similar dishes. This is the first day of Pongal and everyone celebrates it with great joy and excitement.
The major activity during Thai Pongal is making the Sakkarai Pongal and offering it to the Sun God. In villages, it is customary to prepare the Pongal in a newly purchased earthen pot. Typically, firewood is used as fuel for open-air cooking. There's also a specific time for this ceremony to take place. The recommended time for cooking is typically specified in the Almanac and corresponds to the moment the Sun enters the Makara Nakshatra. However, this is a rule that isn't followed by everyone and people choose to cook when it suits them the best.
Today, many individuals prepare Pongal in their kitchens, in a bronze pot called a ‘Vengala Panai’ that is solely used for cooking on Pongal Day. This is the only utensil that is used as a replacement for the traditional clay pot. The pot is also decorated in a traditional manner. A small garland made of flower, tulsi, and neem leaves is used to embellish the pot, whether it be made of earthenware or bronze. Some people also choose to use Kumkum (vermillion), sandalwood paste, and turmeric to draw religious symbols like namam, pattai, etc. on the pot.
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The third day of the Pongal celebration is devoted to worshiping and offering gratitude to the cattle since they’re a vital part of the farmers' lives. The cowsheds and the surrounding areas are scrubbed clean. The cows and bullocks are bathed before being adorned netti malais (garlands formed from pith stems), kumkum, and flower garlands. Additionally, their horns are polished and painted in lovely, vibrant hues. On this joyful day, new ropes are also purchased to replace the old ones that are used for the cattle (Mookanaan Kayiru).
The Pongal meal is made in fresh pots on this day as well, offered to God, and then fed to the cows and bullocks along with bananas. The family only eats the pongal food after feeding the cattle.
Celebration Of Kanu Pongal
Kanu Pongal is traditionally observed on the third day by the majority of Tamil Brahmin families and is different from the celebrations on the fourth day. Women have a tradition of praying for their brothers' well-being on this day.
The women dress up in brand-new sarees and then head over to their brother’s house in the morning. They spread Manjal (turmeric) leaves on the terrace or in the backyard. Little balls made from the leftover Sakkarai Pongal, cooked rice, finely chopped sugarcane, banana, and betel leaves are distributed. They pray for their brothers’ good health and prosperity.
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The Tamil word for ‘Kaanum’ is ‘seeing’. This is the day to step out, celebrate, have fun and spend quality time with your loved ones. Families take the day off to visit friends, other family members, and fairs. People from cities travel to neighboring towns with their to visit beaches, movie theaters, amusement parks, temples, and fairs.
Well, that's all that there is to know about the celebration of Pongal in Tamil Nadu. It's a big affair in the state and an experience to be part of. So if you’re also intrigued with how the Tamil people celebrate Pongal, you can visit Tamil Nadu during the festivities and experience them first hand.
What Food Is Eaten In Tamil Nadu?
When visiting Tamil Nadu, you must try popular traditional dishes like sambar, parappu payasam, puliyodarai, rasam, chicken chettinad, filter coffee, and mutton kola urundai.
Which Month Is The Coldest In Tamil Nadu?
The coldest month in Tamil Nadu is the month of January. The temperature at this time reaches an average high of 22 to 25℃.
What Is The Traditional Dress Of Tamil Nadu?
In Tamil Nadu, you’ll see men wear the traditional lungi or dhoti, paired with an Angavastram (shirt) and the women wear a traditional saree and blouse.
Is Pongal famous in Tamil Nadu?
Yes, Pongal is one of the most celebrated festivals in Tamil Nadu. People across the state, participate in the festivities, and is celebrated with great joy, devotion, excitement, and happiness.
How Many Hill Stations Are There In Tamil Nadu?
Tamil Nadu is home to about 25 beautiful hill stations. Some of these that you must visit at least once are Ooty, Kodaikanal, Kolli hills, Coonoor, Palani hills, Yelagiri, Sirumalai, and Yercaud.
What Is Pongal Called In Tamil Nadu?
Since Pongal in Tamil Nadu is a festival that primarily is devoted to worshiping the Sun God, its also named Surya Pongal.
What Are The Four Days Of Pongal Called?
Pongal is a four-day festival. The first day is called Bhogi Pongal, the second day is Thai Pongal, the third day is Mattu Pongal, and the fourth day is Kaanum Pongal.
Are Pongal And Onam Same?
The harvest festival is known by several names across the country, from Lohri in Punjab, Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra, and Bihu in Assam to Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Onam in Kerala.