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Home > Religious Festivals > Hindu Festivals > Pongal
Pongal Festival
Bhogi PongalIt is an important Tamil festival. It is, probably, a Dravidian harvest festival. It falls in January after winter solstice (Makar Sankrati) and marks the favourable course of the sun.

Ponga means "boil". Pongal means upsurge and is derived from the surging of rice when it is boiled in milk. It is celebrated in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. This is a three-day harvest festival observed on 13th, 14th and the 15th of January.

Bhogi pongal is the first day. It is a family festival meant for enjoyment. It is similar to the Lohri festival in Punjab. The old custom of lighting a bonfire is not prevalent today. It is called Bhogi Mantalu, when useless household articles are thrown into the fire. For the fire, logs of wood and cow-dung cakes are ignited. Girls dance around the bonfire. They sing songs in praise of the gods, spring and the harvest. In Andhra Pradesh, in the morning, they take an oil-bath. Then, the girls burn their old clothes and wear new ones. The bonfire is kept burning throughout the night while boys beat little drums known by the name "Bhogi Kottus" made from the hides of buffaloes.

Surya PongalSurya (sun) pongal is the second day of the festival. On this day, sun is worshipped. They boil rice with milk and jaggery and this is offered to the sun. The preparation is called Pongal. This festival is connected with the harvesting of paddy crop and only new paddy is used in the Pongal preparation. People greet each other with, “Paal Pongitra” (has the milk boiled over?), and they reply, “Yes, it has.” The "Puja" of the Sun God starts after the auspicious moment of the start of the new month THAI. They pray to the Sun God to seek his blessings. People break the old earthen pots and replace them with new pots. This occasion is called Pongal Panai. The new pots are decorated with Haldi (turmeric), flowers and mango leaves. These new pots are used for the preparation of Pongal and are called Pongapani.

The neck of the Pongapani is tied with fresh turmeric and fresh ginger saplings with tender green leaves for the Puja. The green leaves are symbolic of prosperity, the turmeric of auspiciousness and ginger of the spice of life. The special dish called "Sarkkarai Pongal" is cooked in this pot. After the rituals of puja, "Sarkkarai Pongal" with sticks of sugarcane is offered to the Sun god. This is an act of thanksgiving for the abundant harvest. Sugarcane that is offered is symbolic of sweetness and happiness in life. It is said that on this day Lord Sundareshwar in the Madurai temple breathed life into a stone elephant who could eat sugarcane. The carving of this incident is in Meenakshi temple. From this month of THAI, starts the marriage season in Tamil Nadu.

Pongal has different varieties. Rice with dhal and sugar is a Pongal variety is called venpongal. Ven means white. Another variety prepared is rice with dhal and jaggery (sweet), called chakrai pongal. Chakrai means sweet. With the venpongal, people eat brinjal (eggplant) sambar (stew), vadai, idli, and spicy accompaniments.

Mattu PongalThe third day is Mattu Pongal when people worship mattu, (cattle). Cattle is bathed ceremoniously. Their horns are cleaned, polished, painted and decorated with flowers and they are given pongal to eat. Arati (worship by chanting invocative prayer) is performed before the cattle, so as, to ward off the evil eye.

There is a legend behind the worship of cattle. Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to tell the people to have an oil bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then pronounced the curse that Basava should go to earth and plough the fields from the month of Ashadha to Makara Sankranti and help people produce more food. In the bull-fights arranged as entertainment for the day, boys try to snatch the wads of currency notes that are tied to the horns of cattle.

The cattle is taken to the village centres. The villagers gather at the centres and watch as the young men race each other`s cattle. Big uproar is seen when the game "Manji Virattu" starts in which groups of young men chase the running bulls. At some places "Jallikattu" is arranged. It is a bull-fight in which money bags are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls and unarmed young men try to snatch the wads of currency that are tied to the horns of the bull. Sometimes, a red cloth is tied and the one who gets that cloth off the horns of the running bull is rewarded. Competitions like chewing of sugarcane are arranged.

Pongal Cattle RaceOn the Mattu Pongal day, Lord Ganesh and Goddess Parvati are worshipped and Pongal is offered to them in the `puja`.
Mattu Pongal, also called Kanu Pongal, is celebrated by sisters for the welfare of their brothers. A large-sized, unbroken and uncut plantain leaf is taken. It is washed and left on the ground, near the basil (Ocimum sanctum) plant altar with a branch of the amla (Phyllanthus embelica). At the four corners of this leaf, are placed the leftovers of sweet pongal and the salty pongal called Vand Pongal. Along with this is placed rice coloured red, yellow as well as white, with five betel leaves, two betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves (Curcuma longa), and two or three ber (Zizyphus mauritiana). In Tamil Nadu women do this before bathing in the morning and light a lamp before it. In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the festival starts after everyone has bathed.

Arati is performed with haldi (turmeric) water, chuna (limestone) and rice and this water is sprinkled on the rangoli (floor decorations made with coloured rice powder) in front of the house. Before the arati is performed, all the -young and old women of the house assemble and the oldest woman, who is not a widow, distributes a handful of the coloured rice to everyone and all of them sing an auspicious song. The rice is then put in the centre of the plantain leaf with the saying that "the house and family of the brother should grow from now onwards." Sisters apply a tilak to the foreheads of the brothers, and give them fruit, sweets, til (sesame seeds) and gur (jaggery). The brothers thank their sisters for their `good wishes and give them gifts. This festival is reminiscent of Raksha Bandhan and Bhaiya Duj of north India.
• Diwali• Dussehra• Mahashivratri
• Janmashtami• Holi• Pongal
• Hanuman Jayanti• Vat-Savitri• Gond Festival
• Nagpanchami• Rakhi Purnima• Rama Navami
• Vasant Panchami• Ganesh Chaturthi
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