Pongal Festival – Date, History, Significance, and Celebrations

The New Year begins with celebrations and festivities, and one such festival that is celebrated all over India is Pongal. Though Pongal is celebrated across India, it is an important festival for the people of Tamil Nadu. Known as the harvest festival of the state, Pongal is celebrated for four days with a lot of enthusiasm. Families come together for celebrations and enjoy good food and some traditional rituals.

The festival of Sun God, Pongal is similar to Makar Sankranti. This festival celebrates the end of the cold winter months and the beginning of the northward journey of the Sun. The four days of Pongal are called as

  • Bhogi Pongal
  • Surya Pongal
  • Maatu Pongal
  • Kaanum Pongal

The name of the festival comes from the popular and traditional sweet called "Pongal." This sweet dish is made using jaggery and milk. Pongal means "boiling over" or "spilling over" and people from Southern India add newly harvested rice in a bowl or a clay pot and cook it with milk and jaggery until it overflows. They consider this as the symbol of abundance and prosperity.

This year Pongal is celebrated on the 14th of January.

History, Significance, and Celebrations

Pongal is celebrated in the Tai month as per the Tamil calendar, and it falls on the 14th of January this year. The dish called Pongal is prepared on this day and is first offered to the gods and then to the cows, and then to the family.

People come together on this day and decorate their homes and cows. We get to see beautiful Kolam artworks adorning the front yards of the houses. Many visit temples with their families and offer prayers for the blessings of the gods and goddesses.

It is said that the very first mention of the festival can be found in the inscriptions of the Viraraghava Temple of Lord Vishnu. As per the inscriptions, King Kulottunga I, who belonged to the Chola period mentions a land that was given to the temple for Pongal celebrations.

Bhogi Pongal, which happens to be the first day of festivities is the last day of Marghazi month (as per Tamil Calendar). People often clean and paint their houses and also get rid of any old things/possessions.

As per another inscription, the celebrations of Pongal can be dated back to 200 B.C i.e., is the Sangam Age. There are historic pieces of evidence that show that people from the Dravidian Era too celebrated this festival. As per historians, the festival was called "Thai Niradal” and prayers were offered by unmarried girls for an agricultural prosperity. People also used to fast during these days and believed that it would bless them with good crops, wealth, and prosperity for the whole year ahead. A few families also hold Satyanarayan Katha to please Mahavishnu.

Legends Related to Pongal

The festivals celebrated in India have some myths or legends associated with them, and the festival of Pongal is no different. Out of them all, the two most important legends are mentioned below.

The First Legend

According to one popular legend, Lord Shiva asked his bull/vahana the Basava to visit Earth. He asked him to ask the people to eat once a month and have a bath with an oil massage every day. But Basava accidentally announced that people should eat every day and have an oil bath once a month. Due to this, he had to face the wrath of Lord Shiva and stay on the Earth forever. It is said that Lord Shiva asked Basava to stay on the Earth and help in the production of food. Thus, cattle too are worshipped during the festivities. Few families also hold special Ganesh Puja in their homes; however, it differs by states.

The Second Legend

The second legend of Pongal is about Lord Indra and Lord Krishna. As per Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna once decided to teach Lord Indra a lesson due to his arrogance after becoming the king of deities. He told the cowherders to stop worshipping Lord Indra, thus angering him. Lord Indra then sent dark clouds that caused devastation and thunderstorms in the village. Lord Krishna then lifted the Govardhan mountain and provided shelter to people and animals. By doing so, he showed his divinity to Indra. With this, Lord Krishna was able to shatter the pride of Lord Indra.

The Celebrations

The celebration of Pongal spreads across four days and begins with a very special puja, which is performed when harvesting the paddy. The farmers offer special prayers and worship the Earth and the Sun. They also smear their sickles and ploughs with Kumkum and sandalwood paste.

Day 1 of Pongal – Bhogi Pandigai

Bhogi marks the beginning of the Pongal celebrations. This day falls on the last day of the Marghazi month as per the Tamil Lunar calendar and marks the beginning of Tai. People worship Lord Indra on the first day and seek his blessings. They also get rid of old clothes and items and wear new clothes.

Day 2 of Pongal – Thai Pongal

Thai Pongal is the day when people celebrate the tradition of rice. People from various states celebrate this day as Makar Sankranti. In Tamil Nadu, Thai Pongal is celebrated by making the sweet dish "Pongal." They take newly harvested rice and add it to a new clay pot along with jaggery and cow milk. When boiling, they allow it to boil over and spill over the pot. It is believed that boiling over or spilling over of Pongal is an auspicious sign, and will bless them with prosperity and abundance. Pongal is made during the sunrise in an open place and hence is also called Surya Pongal or Perum Pongal.

Day 3 of Pongal – Mattu Pongal

On the day of Mattu Pongal, people decorate their cattle and worship them as they are an integral part of the agriculture process. A few families also follow the ritual of placing colored rice (made into small balls) on banana leaves and offering it to the crows.

Day 4 of Pongal – Kaanum Pongal

Women on the day of Kaanum Pongal perform "Kanu Pidi," a ritual for brothers. People also visit their friends and family on this day, exchange gifts and wear new clothes.

Even today, people celebrate the festival of Pongal on all four days with a lot of enthusiasm and follow all the rituals and traditions. And, we hope this Pongal, every household is blessed with abundance, health, and wealth. Happy Pongal!

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