Pongal is an important festival in India, infact, it is the thanksgiving festival of India. Celebrated primarily in the Southern part of the country, Pongal is a festival when people worships the Sun God, and prays for his gifts of bounty. Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving farmers a break from their monotonous routine. Farmers also perform puja to some crops, signaling the end of the traditional farming season. Inspite of immense urbanization, the traditions and customs attached to the harvest festival of Pongal has not diminished. The festival of Pongal captures the quintessence of south Indian culture in all its entirety and traditional practices and customs continue to hold their own even today.
Pongal is an ancient festival of people in South India particularly Tamils. The history of the festival can be traced back to the Sangam Age i.e. 200 B.C. To 300 A.D. Although, Pongal originated as a Dravidian Harvest festival and has a mention in Sanskrit Puranas, historians identify the festival with the Thai Un and Thai Niradal which are believed to have been celebrated during the Sangam Age.
The celebrations of Sangam Era led to today's Pongal celebrations. As part of the festivities, maidens of the Sangam era observed 'Pavai Nonbu' at the time of Thai Niradal which was a major festival during the reign of the Pallavas (4th to 8th Century AD). It was observed during the Tamil month of Margazhi (December-January). During this festival young girls prayed for rain and prosperity of the country. Throughout the month, they avoided milk and milk products. They would not oil their hair and refrained from using harsh words while speaking. Women used to bath early in the morning. They worshiped the idol of Goddess Katyayani, which would be carved out of wet sand. They ended their penance on the first day of the month of Thai (January-February). This penance was to bring abundant rains to flourish the paddy. These traditions and customs of ancient times gave rise to Pongal celebrations.
Andal's Tiruppavai and Manickavachakar's Tiruvembavai vividly describe the festival of Thai Niradal and the ritual of observing Pavai Nonbu. According to an inscription found in the Veeraraghava temple at Tiruvallur, the Chola King Kiluttunga used to gift lands to the temple specially for the Pongal celebrations. 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 ploughs and sickles with sandal wood paste. It is with these consecrated tools that the newly-harvested rice is cut.
Pongal is the only festival of Hindu that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated on the fourteenth of January every year. Pongal has astronomical significance: it marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the Sun's movement northward for a six month period. In Hinduism, Uttarayana is considered auspicious, as opposed to Dakshinaayana, or the southern movement of the sun. All important events are scheduled during this period. Makara Sankranthi refers to the event of the Sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.
In fact, four festivals are celebrated in Tamil Nadu for four consecutive days in that week. 'Bogi' is celebrated on January 13, 'Pongal' on Jan 14, 'Maattuppongal' on Jan 15, and 'Thiruvalluvar Day' on Jan 16.The festival is celebrated for four days.
On, the first day, Bhogi, the old clothes and materials are thrown away and fired, marking the beginning of a new life. The second day, the Pongal day, is celebrated by boiling fresh milk early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel - a tradition that is the literal translation for Pongal (in Tamil). People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each other's homes, and exchange greetings.
The second day, the Pongal day, is celebrated by boiling fresh milk early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel - a tradition that is the literal translation for Pongal (in Tamil). People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each other's homes, and exchange greetings. Pongal literally means, "boiling over". The Tamil harvest festival is celebrated with decorated cows, processions and decorative Rangoli. Pongal is a sweet porridge made from newly harvested rice and eaten by all, even the animals. Each day of this festival has a special significance, however, it is celebrated more grandly in the villages, while the city folk mainly celebrate on the second day only.
The third day, Mattu Pongal, is meant to offer thanks to the cows and buffaloes, as they are used to plough the lands. as 'Mattu Pongal' is dedicated to the cattle as cowherds and shepherds pay thanks to their cows and bulls, 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 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 take the money bags tied to the horns of ferocious bulls single-handedly and without the use of armsIn Home this day is celebrated as Kanu Pongal when girls feed colored balls of cooked rice to the birds and crows and pray for their brothers' happiness and that they always remember them
The fourth day is termed as Kaanum Pongal. On this day, people travel to see other family members. On this day, the younger members of the family pay homage to the elders, and the elders thank them by giving token money. Another thing many do is leave food out on banana leaves for birds to take. Many South Indian people will take the first bit of rice cooked in any given day and set it outside for the crows to take.
Thai Pongal is an occasion for family re-unions and get-together. Old enmities, personal animosities and rivalries are forgotten. Estrangements are healed and reconciliation effected. Indeed, Thai Pongal is a festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion crystallized in the last hymn on unity .Thus, love and peace are the central theme of Thai Pongal.