Pongal Significance and Rituals Explained•
Posted on January 13 2023
Pongal is a three-day to four-day festival celebrated by the people of Tamilnadu. The first day of the festival occurs in the auspicious Tamil Thai month in accordance with the Tamil solar calendar. This is typically in January on the 14th or 15th of the month when crops like sugarcane, rice and turmeric are harvest.
Pongal is essentially a harvest festival and hence the main focus is to offer one’s obeisance to the Sun God and the farm animals for helping to achieve a plentiful harvest. Farmers also pay their respects to Lord Indra, the rain god and their farming implements like the plough.
The word Pongal means to boil and overflow. Interestingly, a traditional dish is prepared on this day by boiling rice from the harvest in milk along with lentils, turmeric and jaggery and allowing it to spill over. This is usually done outdoors in an earthen pot with all the family members assembling around the pot. The cooked pongal is first offered to the deities, after which it is distributed among the family members.
Read on to know the practices and rituals observed over the four-day celebration period.
Day 1 – Bhogi Pongal
This day marks the beginning of the Pongal festival celebrations. Family members engage themselves actively in cleaning their houses thoroughly and making them spic and span. All old belongings that are not in use are discarded and burnt in a bonfire made with wood and dung cakes when the fire starts burning well. This is a symbolic representation to indicate a fresh and new start.
People decorate their houses and sometimes even paint them to elevate the festive mood and wear new clothes. Farmers in villages paint the horns of their buffaloes and oxen. Lord Indra is worshipped on this day thanking Him for the rains for the harvest and for rains in the future years as well.
Day 2 – Surya Pongal
This is the most important day among all the four days. As the name highlights, people honour the Sun God on this day. They prepare the Pongal dish on this day and shout out “Pongalo Pongal” cheerfully as the milk boils. Some members also blow a conch along with the shouts.
The pot is often decorated with a flower garland or turmeric leaves. The stove on which the pot is placed is surrounded by at least a couple of sugarcane stalks. The entrance of the houses is decorated with colourful floral or geometric patterns called kolams. This is done in the early morning hours and should be performed only after a bath. Mango and banana leaves are also used for decoration.
Day 3 – Maatu Pongal
This day is celebrated to worship and honour the cattle that helped in ploughing the lands. The term mattu is a generic term and is used to refer to cattle, bullocks or cows. This day is generally of more significance to villagers than those who live in the city. The cattle are considered to be a rich source of wealth for providing human beings with dairy products, as well as agricultural aid, fertilizers and transport. The cows are bathed with oil and turmeric water. After this, they are decorated with floral garlands, bells and multi-coloured beads. Their horns are also painted in vibrant colours if not done so already. Farmers apply kumkum on the foreheads of their cattle. They are then worshipped and offered bananas along with a mixture of venn pongal, honey and jaggery.
In some places, people visit temples on this day to offer their prayers. These shrines host various dance-drama performances and processions. The popular cattle sport, jallikattu and manji-virattu held on this day with coin bags tied on to the horns of the bulls. Women and young girls observe a tradition called Kannum Pongal. They pray for the well-being of their brothers while the brothers affirm their love for their married sisters and shower them with gifts. This is also a day when people from Tamilnadu remember the great Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar.
Day 4 – Kaanum Pongal
This day is the last day of the Pongal celebrations. The term Kaanum is used to indicate the phrase to visit. People give importance to strengthening ties and community bonds on this day. There is usually a reunion of families and they get together for a grand feast. In villages, the gathering takes place on a riverbank and the meal is termed as kootanchoru. The leftover pongal is kept outdoors in the courtyard on a washed turmeric leaf along with sugarcane as well as betel nuts and leaves.
The young members of the family seek the blessings of the elders from their family. Elders who come visiting at times give youngsters some money as a gift. People also visit their friends and neighbours to wish them. Communities hold social events like traditional dances such as kolattam and mayilattam.
Written by - Deepthi K