Are you the quintessential festival-lover who revelled in Navarathri, partied through Diwali and made much merry in Christmas and New Year? Well then, it’s time to brace yourself for one important festival Pongal.
India is a land whose primary occupation is agriculture. Changes in season thus play a very important role for Indian farmers. Their lifestyles and celebrations are thus exclusively linked to the seasonal landmarks in a year. There are many Indian festivals which are in tune with a farmer’s lifestyle and with the seasonal variations in a year. Pongal, the harvest festival of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is one of them.
Pongal is celebrated in different names in different parts of India. To name a few –
Thai Pongal – A harvest festival – the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving. It is held to honour the Sun, for a bountiful harvest. Families gather to rejoice and share their joy and their harvests with others. Pongal is the most popular and celebrated festival in the South. Though the 4-day thanksgiving for harvest festival is celebrated with much pomp and gaiety all over the Tamil Nadu region, Its real charm is best experienced in the country sides.
In the Northern states of India, people celebrate this day as Makar Sankranti. The most exciting thing about this festival is the kite flying. People believe that the direction of the wind changes on that day, and so they all come out into the streets to fly colourful kites and capture as many as possible.
In Punjab, people celebrate Lohri in January on what they believe is the coldest day of the year. With the cold winds blowing they celebrate by dancing the bhangra around a fire, which is fed with sugarcane, rice, and sesame seeds. People sing folk songs that tell of a good harvest, which is a blessing from the gods.
Bihu or Bohaggiyo is the greatest festival of the Assamese people, who observe three Bihus. The three Bihus, constitute a festival complex and are celebrated at various stages of the cultivation of paddy, the principal crop of Assam.
The Hadaga festival in Maharashtra is to pray for a good monsoon and a good harvest. As Indra is the god of rain, people sing songs to Indra and pray for rain. Pictures of the elephant which is Indra’s vehicle are drawn everywhere to invite the God.
What is Pongal?
Pongal or Makar Sankranti is the only festival of Hindu that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated on the 14th or 15th 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 of Uttarayana. Makara Sankranthi refers to the event of the Sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn. In Hindu temples bells, drums, clarinets, and conch shells herald the joyous occasion of Pongal. To symbolize a bountiful harvest, rice is cooked in new pots until they boil over. Some of the rituals performed in the temple include the preparation of rice, the chanting of prayers and the offering of vegetables, sugar cane and spices to the gods. Devotees then consume the offerings to exonerate themselves of past sins.
Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving farmers a break from their monotonous routine. Farmers also perform puja to some crops, signalling the end of the traditional farming season. It also sets the pace for a series of festivals to follow in a calendar year. In fact, In connection with Pongal, four festivals are celebrated in Tamil Nadu for four consecutive days. First day is ‘Bogi’ which is celebrated on the previous day of Thai Pongal. On this day, people white wash, paint and decorate their homes. New vessels are bought and old and unwanted things are discarded and burnt. Second day is the main day which is Thai Pongal. On this day, Women decorate the central courtyard of their homes with beautiful kolams (Rangolis), done with rice flour and bordered with red clay or coloured Rangoli powder. The Pongal dish is cooked exactly at the moment when the new month is born. Third day is ‘Maattu pongal’. This day is celebrated to glorify cattle that help farmers in numerous ways. On this day, the cows are bathed and decorated with vermilion and garlands. In certain villages in southern Tamil Nadu, a bullfight called Jallikattu is held in the evening. Bags of coins are tied to the sharpened horns of ferocious bulls that are let loose in an open ground. The young men of the village vie with each other to subdue the bull and grab the bags tied to the horns. 4th day which is the last day is kaanum pongal. It is that part of the festival when families gather on the riverbanks and have a sumptuous meal. It is also time for some traditional dances such as kummi and kolattam. In recent years, that day is celebrated as Uzhavar Thirunaal in honour of farmers.
“As you celebrate the festival of Pongal, with a lot of enthusiasm and cheer, this warm greeting comes your way, reach out as the auspicious festival that marks the beginning of the harvest season. As the festival of Pongal is here, hoping it ushers in with a world of good wishes for every joy and happiness stays with you throughout the year. With best wishes – YT Team.”