Pongal is one of the most revered festivals in South India, dedicated to Lord Sun to thank him for a good harvest and seek his blessings for a prosperous produce the upcoming year. The name of the festival is drawn from the special sweet dish made with freshly harvested rice and jaggery made for the Lord.
The legendary festival is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai (January–February) as a four day long festival. The celebration begins on the last day of the Tamil Month of Margazhi (December–January) and culminates on the third day of the month, Thai. According to the Gregorian calendar, the grand festival of Pongal falls between the 13th and 16th of January, every year.
Mythology Behind Pongal
There are two famous legends behind Pongal.
- Lord Krishna wanted to teach a lesson to Lord Indra and destroy his arrogance as he became the king of all Gods. Hence, Krishna asked all the cowherds to stop worshipping Indra. This infuriated Indra who sent forth heavy rains and storms to earth for 3 consecutive days. Lord Krishna lifted the Mountain Govardhan to save humanity, which made Indra realize his mistake and the immense divine power of Lord Krishna.
- Another legend states that Lord Shiva once sent his sacred bull, Nandi to earth to spread a message that people should take oil massage and bath every day and eat once a month. Unknowingly, he switched the message and announced that everyone should eat daily and have oil bath once a month. This made Shiva furious and he cursed Nandi to remain in earth forever and plough the fields to make enough grains for humanity to eat daily. This marks the link between the bull and the festival.
Rituals and Celebrations of Pongal
Pongal is celebrated as a four-day festival with great fervor and passion all over South India.
- Bhogi Pongal – The first day is observed as Bhogi Pongal on the last day of Margazhi month and is dedicated to Lord Indra. On this day, people burn old clothes and wastes from home in bonfires. This symbolizes the destroying of old things and thoughts to welcome new and fresh items and thoughts for the upcoming year. Houses are cleaned and kolams or patterns are drawn with rice flour paste and red mud. Kolams are also decorated with cow dung cakes and pumpkin flowers.
- Surya Pongal – This is the first day of the month of Thai, and is dedicated to Lord Surya (Sun) as a tribute for the previous year’s lush harvest and to seek for his blessings for the upcoming year. People prepare the special sweet dish made of the freshly harvested rice, lentils, jaggery (cane sugar) and milk. Grand celebrations are held to enjoy the occasion.
- Maatu Pongal – This day is dedicated to the hardworking cattle, which plays an indispensable part in the harvest process. Cows and oxen are given bath and their horns are painted with vibrant colors. They are decorated with garlands and flowers. People perform special Pooja for the cattle and offer Pongal. Bull fights are organized on this day to add to the festive mood of the ceremony.
- Kaanum Pongal – This day is also called as Kanya Pongal and is marked by sisters praying for the welfare of their brothers. On this day, fowl and birds are also thanked by offering small pellets of cooked rice.