Pongal Traditions: As Harvests Come to Life

Event Fashion: Before the New Year celebrations die down, South India gets ready for an even bigger festival- Pongal. As per the Hindu calendar, January 14, signifies the outset of the Sun’s northward movement. South Indians, and in particular Tamilians celebrate this day with great joy. The day is so auspicious that the whole of India celebrates it via different names. Pongal in the South becomes the North Indian Makar Sankranti. Punjabi’s call it Lori and the Assamese refer to it as Bihu. Many words for the same festival. Here’s a look at Pongal traditions that are upheld even to this day by millions of people.

Why Pongal is celebrated ?
(Man Paanai) Earthen Pot used for making Pongal

Why Pongal is celebrated

Pongal occurs in Thai, which is a month which is part of the Tamil calendar. This harvest festival is the day on which farmers give back to Nature and thank her for her bounties. The name of the festival comes from a sweet dish made on the auspicious day. The festival is also known for a gift exchanging ceremony. Thus, the reason behind Pongal celebration.

Significance of Pongal

This harvest festival helps people usher in hope, joy and prosperity and is a celebration of goodness. Celebrated over the span of four days, Pongal brings out the best in people and personifies a valuable quality-kindness. Pongal traditions have withstood the test of time. Even though India has become urbanised, South Indians, still celebrate Pongal and follow Pongal traditions with great reverence. This is why Pongal is celebrated.

Pongal Traditions

Bhogi (Day 1)

Cleaning the house you live in is an integral part of the festival. Hence, a day before Bhogi, family members gather and work together to rid their home of unnecessary trash. On this auspicious day, people get up early and take a good long bath. They then proceed to draw a ‘Kolam‘ outside their homes. Simultaneously, a bonfire is lit within the house, and the trash collected goes right into this fire. This signifies breaking out of old habits and creating fresh new ones. Worshiping Indra- The God of Rain, farming tools and anything that helps in agriculture is also an integral Pongal traditions.

Surya Pongal (Day 2)

Take a bath early in the morning, and then proceed to worship Surya on this day. Pongal traditions for this day includes preparing a milk and jaggery porridge in a clay or earthen pot. The porridge rises and flows out of the pot, symbolising prosperity and abundance. Family members gather around the pan and exclaim “Pongalo, Pongal” while this happens. Surya Dev gets first preference for the sweet, following which the family consumes it.

Mattu Pongal (Day 3)

Pongal traditions associated with worshipping farm animals occur on Mattu Pongal. Washing of the animals, decoration of their horns and hooves, showering of garlands are all traditions that constitute this auspicious day. The tying of special threads around the animal’s neck, to ward off evil spirits also happens on this day. The preparation of Sakkarai Pongal is also an integral part of this day. Cows are the first ones to taste the dish, following which, it is eaten by the rest.

Kaanum Pongal (Day 4)

This day contains several distinctive Pongal traditions and is a cultural phenomenon more than a religious festival. Kaanum translates to, ‘to see’ in Tamil and symbolises festivity and pomp. Family members wear their Sunday best and head out into town to make visits and socialise. The ritual is to provide people with a nice break from their usually busy and hectic lives.

How you can absorb Pongal Traditions

Pongal need not be confined to Tamil Nadu because quite frankly we all have things to be thankful for. Hence, do the following and be a part of this harvest festival.

  • Look up Kolam designs online if you aren’t able to come up with your own patterns.
  • Create two Kolams; one outside your home and one within the Puja room.
  • Exchange gifts like Pongal Padi and Parisu with the labourers who come to help you at home.
  • Donate clothes and other materials you have discarded before Pongal. This can also serve as a cleansing ritual and helps you save space at home.
  • Include the entire family in the pre-Pongal household cleaning, and make sure you explain to the kids, why this is important.
  • Try to include children even in making the Pongal rice as this will teach them a great deal about our traditions.