Hindus acknowledge the sacredness of Earth and all life. Nature is a creative force worthy of respect, even veneration. Each year at harvest time, agrarian communities all over India celebrate this festival with enthusiastic abandon. They dance, fly kites, sing and exchange gifts in a grand thanksgiving celebration.
What is the nature of this festival?
Makara Sankranti is four days of giving thanks to four great forces of influence and protection: Indra, the giver of rain; Surya, the Sun; gracious cattle and beloved ancestors. This happy occasion is known as Pongal by Tamils, Pedha Panduga among the Telugus and Lohri by Punjabis. It begins on the day the sun enters Makara (Capricorn), between January 13 and 15. This is a special time of giving blankets, pumpkins, sugarcane and other items to the poor. Married women are honored, and gifts are given to newborn
Pongal is a major celebration in India and people celebrate it for three to four days. The first day is called Bhogi. Many people burn and get rid of old household items and purchase new household items on this day. This marks the start of a new cycle. The second day is Perum, also known as Surya Pongal, and is the most important day of Pongal. Many people worship the sun god, Lord Surya by offering prayers on this day. Many people also wear new clothes and women decorate houses with Kolam (designs) using rice flour and red clay.
Mattu Pongal is the third day and includes worshipping cattle because it is believed that cattle help give a good harvest. The fourth day is called Kanum Pongal, which is when many people go on picnic and spend time with families and friends. The Pongal festival also includes exchanging gifts, dancing, and buffalo-taming contests.
What is done on the first day?
The day before festivities begin, Hindus thoroughly clean their homes, discarding unwanted, worn out or broken items and obtaining replacements for the year ahead. This clears away stale, negative energy and brings an influx of dynamic blessings into the
home. It is a time for clearing the mind as well, to begin the year with focus and confidence. On this day, Indra, the celestial power of lightning and rain, is worshiped. Homage is paid to Lord Indra for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land.
What happens on the second day?
Using colored rice flour, women draw patterns on the floor called kolam or rangoli, depicting the Moon and the Sun in a chariot. Prayers are directed to Surya, the Sun, with offerings of freshly harvested sugarcane and vegetables. The main event happens
at sunrise when everyone gathers in a gaily decorated compound where freshly harvested rice is cooked outdoors with milk in a new pot around which a turmeric plant it tied. The The rice is then symbolically offered to the sun-god along with other oblations. Everyone wears traditional dress and markings. The offerings include the two sticks of sugar-cane in background and coconut and bananas in the dish.
In Tamil communities, the moment the pot boils over, all shout, “Pongalo Pongal!” (“It’s boiling over!”). All watch to see whether the froth overflows toward the East, which auspiciously indicates abundance for the year ahead. Conches are sounded and children dance for joy. A portion of the boiled rice, the season’s first food, is offered to Mother Earth as a gesture of gratitude, and to all creatures and nature spirits. The remainder is eaten by the families. Wearing new clothes, families visit one another, exchanging gifts and enjoying feasts.
What happens on the third day?
The third day is known as Mattu Pongal, the day of Pongal for cows. Multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands are tied around the neck of the cattle and then are worshiped. They are fed with Pongal and taken to the village centres. The resounding of their bells attract the villagers. The entire atmosphere becomes festive and full of fun and revelry. Arati is performed on them, to ensure another year of trouble free farming and produce.
According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food. Thus the association of this day with cattle, and we offer thanks to cattle, the farmer’s gracious helpers. Bulls and cows alike are lovingly adorned with cowrie shells, embroidered shawls, colorful ropes and bells, and fed sweet rice and sugar cane.
How is the final day celebrated?
The Fourth day is known as Knau or Kannum Pongal day. On this day, a turmeric leaf is washed and is then placed on the ground. On this leaf are placed, the left overs of sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice colored red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains. In Tamil Nadu women perform this ritual before bathing in the morning. All the women, young and old, of the house assemble in the courtyard. The rice is placed in the centre of the leaf, while the women ask that the house and family should prosper. Arati is performed for the family with turmeric water, limestone and rice, and this water is sprinkled on the kolam in front of the house.
On the fourth day, ancestors and wildlife are also venerated. It is a day for picnic outings and family visits. Young girls and women receive blessings from older women for happiness and prosperity. Youth honor their elders. Brothers and sisters exchange gifts and express mutual respect and allegiance. Poets and their works are revered. In Tamil Nadu, it is also called Tiruvalluvar Day, in honor of the author of the famed ethical scripture Tirukural.
Food for Pongal
- Ven Pongal
- Pongal Recipes
- More Pongal Recipes
- Even More Pongal Recipes – recipes for each day
- Today – January 15, 2012 – is Thai Pongal (hindu-blog.com)
- Tirukannamudhu for Bhogi Pongal | Sweet rice porridge, and a sweet tribute to the Sun God (itsnotmadrasi.blogspot.com)
- Pongal Puli curry (desifoodbuzz.com)
- Pongal Festival 2012 (desifoodbuzz.com)
- Four Days of Pongal Celebrations (atinytoes.wordpress.com)
- Pongalo pongal/Recipe Nutriladdu (bhagavathy.blogspot.com)
- Pongal – The Festival Celebrating Prosperity (atinytoes.wordpress.com)
- Pongal Festival 2012 (chefinyou.com)