In India there are various Hindu festivals - temple festivals as well as religious community festivals. Though the same festivals are being followed by various cultures, the method of celebration and food to be eaten on the festive days may vary from state to state and from caste to caste. This is the dynamics of Indian culture that remains unbroken for centuries, keeping the old traditions and customs in tact; in this respect, it is obvious, India stands apart from the rest of other countries. This diversity of homogenous Indian culture (with limited variations) is the hallmark of India. Among the Hindu festivals, Pongal is a popular one, dedicated to one of the Pancha Boothas (five essential elements) - Agni / light whose source is the Sun - our perennial source of energy, without which, we will perish.
Pongal (Telugu: Sankranthi ), a four-day festival is an important one in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Srilanka and other countries where Tamil speaking people live. It is a harvest festival that falls on 14 January to 16 January (vide Gregorian Calendar). It marks the end of Tamil month Margazhi on 14 January and the beginning of the first day of Thai -15 January. Also called Thai Pongal, it corresponds to Makara Sankranthi, the winter harvest festival celebrated throughout India. Thai is the traditional month of weddings and family ceremonies.
|Pongal festival Tamil Nadu. 123rf.com|
Fascinating facts of the Pongal festival:
01. Astronomically speaking, the day marks the Uttarayanam or Uttarayana Kaalam - the beginning of the sun’s six-month long journey northwards towards equinox, corresponding to the Indic solstice when the sun enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Makara or Capricorn. Thai Pongal is a sort of ''thanksgiving'' festival to the Sun God - Surya for his relentless routine work without which successful harvest is impossible not withstanding the fact our sustenance on this planet is impossible. The festival consists of cooking of sweetened rice food called Pongal, first dedicated to the Sun.
02. Pongal is a festival of great antiquity, dating as far back as 1000 plus years as confirmed by the epigraphical evidence found in the Puthiyeedu during the Medieval Chola empire days. Puthiyeedu refers to the very first harvest of the year.
03. Commonly in the month of Thai (January-February ) cash crops like rice, sugarcane, turmeric etc., are harvested. Hence, Pongal festival is associated with the annual harvest season.
04. The term 'pongal' in Tamil means "to boil over", symbolic of our happiness and agricultural produce ''overflowing the brim''. This festival is an expression of our gratitude to the the sun god, a perineal source of light and energy. People of all castes celebrate it with the same religious zeal. Particularly, in the rural areas, it is very popular and the farm workers get a reward called Pongl Enam in the form of cash, clothes, etc., from the big land owners.
05. This festival is called Makara Sankaranthi in Andhra and other states, Bihu in Bihar and Uttarayana in Rajasthan and Gujarat and Maghi in Punjab and Hariyana.
06. Pongal is the name of a dish consumed during this festive time, which is sweetened rice boiled with lentils, jaggery (country sugar), grated coconut, etc.
07. During the auspicious days of any month in Tamil Nadu, offering of Pongal Prasadam is a common one and this traditional practice at Hindu temples has been in vogue for centuries. It is prepared in the temple kitchen called Madappalli in Tamil and the cooks are from the local Brahmin community, a tradition that is followed across India, Example, Puri jagannath temple, Odhisa, Viswanath temple, Varanasi, UP. Invariably, only the traditional hearth and utensils are used for making offering (prsadam)
08. The Bhogi festival, celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, the god of rain, is the first day of Pongal. According to the Hindu mythology Lord Indra is believed to be responsible for the copious supply of rain, including potable water and abundance of harvest, thereby bringing prosperity to the land. Also referred to as Bhogi Mantalu, on this day, it has been a tradition to clean the household. Useless items are disposed of by way of creating a bonfire into which they are thrown. This implies getting rid of all the negative elements that create negative energy and making room for positive energy in the house.
09. The bonfire is made of traditionally dried cow dung cakes and firewood. but, it is not so, nowadays.
|Kolam drawn in front of a house. en.wikipedia.org|
10. Thai Pongal is the second day of the festival, being the most important one. In addition to rice, jaggery (in Tamil Vellam) and milk, the ingredients of Pongal dish include cardamom, raisins, Green gram (split), and cashew nuts. Cooking is done in sunlight, usually in a porch or courtyard, as the dish is dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. Pongal is cooked during the auspicious time (as prescribed in the Almanac (Panjangam) in a decorated preferably an earthen pot with turmeric plants tied around it. In some places, pongal is cooked in the open part of the house under sunlight. In some places in the villages, mass cooking is done at the appointed time with devotion in the open near the temple by the women.
|hot steaming rice for pongal preparation. en.wikipedia.|
|earthen pot, pongal cooking in the open yard before temple.India Today|
11. In front of the houses, in the early morning of the Pongal day, the ladies after a head bath, draw kolams - rangoli of various geometric patterns and colors. This is done to invite deities, meaning inviting positive energy into the household and driving out the negative energy.
|Kolam drawn in front of houses.en.wikipedia.org|
|Pongal kolam, rangoli, Tamil nadu.sscrecruitmentresults.in|
It is imperative to express our gratitude to cows, which are an integral part of our lives. The same thing is also offered to the bulls that mostly work on the forms.- ploughing the agricultural lands, taking the produce to the market, etc. The cattle , including the young ones are fed with ''pongal' dish prepared as part of the festivities and an aarthi is taken before them by the women in the family. In the past decades in the delta areas of Thanjavur, Thruvarur districts, etc., the use of bulls on the agri-lands is on the decline as many farms are mechanized. Prior to 1970s in the rural areas one could see one or two bulls being used to operate the Mara Chekku ( wooden oil press; in local parlance mara means wood, Chekku means press).
chekku means oil press) for extraction of cold-pressed groundnut, gingili (also gingelly- Ellu in Tamil), coconut oil and others.
|Tamil nadu women worship the cow. NDTV.com|
|decorated bull. pongal. Sadhguru|
14. Kaanum (or Kanu) Pongal is the final day of the Pongal festival. The ritual involves putting the left-over of Pongal, venn pongal (unswetened) etc., on a cleaned long turmeric leaf in the open courtyard of the house. It also contains bits of banana, sugarcane, etc. This is done by young girls / women, praying for the welfare and longevity of their brothers. ''Aarthi'' is performed for the brothers with turmeric water mixed with lime and rice. Elderly people make a mark with turmeric on their forehead so that they can lead a long happy wedded life - as Sumangali.
15. On this day, people consume a variety of cooked rice food such as coconut bath (saatham / food), pongal, pulliyotharai (tamarind bath) curd bath, etc., along with vegetable dishes.
With the advent of Tamil month Thai, the first Tamil month, important family functions, weddings will take place after a brief break. Business people open new businesses in this auspicious month, befitting the Tamil adage "Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum" meaning with the birth of Thai, a new path will be in sight to put our worries behind and surge forward placing trust in God. Money earned from a good harvest forms the economic basis for weddings, opening new business ventures, buying houses, etc. So, every Hindu festival has some kind of message that is good for the welfare of the community and social harmony.