What is Pongal?
Pongal is a Tamil festival that is celebrated in south India. It is held in mid-January every year. Pongal also has an astronomical significance, as it is the beginning of Uttarayana when the Sun begins its northward movement for six months. Uttarayana is a very auspicious period for Hindus, as opposed to Dakshinayana, which is the southern movement of the Sun.
In fact, people schedule important events during this period. It is also the time of Makara Sankranti when the Sun enters the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.
Pongal is one of the major festivals in Tamil Nadu. Bells, drums, clarinets, and conch shells are sounded in temples to herald the advent of Pongal. To signify a good harvest, people cook rice in new pots until they boil over. Temple rituals include the cooking of Chakkarai Pongal, a kind of rice pudding, Poojas and Homas, and offerings of sugarcane, vegetables, and spices to the gods. Devotees then consume the prasad.
Pongal marks the end of the farming season. It is the time for farmers to take a break from their backbreaking work and relax. They also do Pooja for the crops to signify the end of the season. Pongal celebrations go on for 4 days. The 4 days of Pongal are Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal, Maattu Pongal, and Kaanum Pongal.
Pongal rituals differ on all 4 days of the festival. On the day of Bhogi, which is also the first day of the festivities, old clothes and materials are gotten rid of. Many people burn them, but nowadays, some prefer not to burn them as it causes pollution. This ritual marks the end of the old and the beginning of a new life. It is also the custom to do deep cleaning of the homes and decorate them with rangolis or kolams, which are made of rice flour, colored or white. Women vie with each other to create the most intricate and beautifully colored kolams to adorn the front entrance of their houses. They also wear new clothes. People worship Indra on this day, as he is the deity who rules the clouds which cause rain. Without rain, the crops will wither away.
On the second day or Surya Pongal, which is the main day of the 4-day Pongal festivities, people boil rice in the morning and let it boil over the vessel. This boiling over is called ‘ponguthal’, and it’s how the festival got its name. It signifies abundance and prosperity. People boil the rice with milk and jaggery. People also make other sweets and savories, visit friends and relatives, and exchange greetings. On the third day, Mattu Pongal, people honor cows and buffaloes as they help farmers to plow the lands. On the last day, Kaanum Pongal, people dress in fine clothes and go on picnics. On this day, people worship the Sun, as crops need sunlight to grow.
Jallikattu is an ancient sport featuring pedigreed bulls. It takes place during the harvest season and is a tribute to the bulls, which are essential companions of the farmer. The sport has been around for at least 1500 years, as per Tamil literatures. Jallikkattu is usually celebrated during Pongal.
Jallikattu contests take place in places like Madurai, Tiruchirapalli, and Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. These events attract hordes of people and are seen as an integral part of the Pongal festivities. People tie bundles of money to the horns of ferocious bulls, and the villagers try to retrieve them. There is also a community meal, at which everyone joins in. People use freshly harvested grain to make the rice dishes.
Like many harvest festivals in other parts of the world, Pongal too celebrates the first fruits of the harvest. The farmers harvest the crops only at a certain time of the year. It is forbidden to cut the crop before that time. Initially, Pongal was celebrated by the farming community, but today even those who are not farmers celebrate it. In south India, all the Pongal days are celebrated. But Tamils settled in north India often celebrate only the second day or Surya Pongal. As it coincides with Makara Sankranti and Lohri (a north Indian festival), it is also called Pongal Sankranti.
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