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Thayi Pongal—Thanksgiving Festival of South India

By sudha.hariharan

January 14, 2017

In a land of diverse cultures, traditions  and  languages, we have numerous festivals spread out all across the year. After Lohri, it’s now time for Thayi Pongal,which is observed on January 14  in South India and especially in Tamil Nadu. Pongal , though, is celebrated only in Tamil Nadu;    other states have holidays during this time, such as Sankranti, Makara Jyoti, and the Kite festival. Pongal is the only harvest festival, where as the others are not celebrated for harvest reasons.

The 4-day long harvest festival,  in the month of Thayi ( Jan-Feb) marks the onset of harvest of crops like sugarcane, rice, turmeric etc.  ‘Pongal’ in Tamil means “to boil”, and the festival is celebrated as a thanksgiving ceremony for the year’s harvest.  It is also also the name of a dish consumed during this festive time, which is a sweetened rice boiled with lentils and jaggery. The act of boiling over of milk in the clay pot is considered to denote future prosperity for the family. Traditionally celebrated at harvest time, it is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the harvest by thanking the rain, sun and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest.

The first day—Bhogi— is celebrated in honour of Lord Indra, the god of rain. Bhogi Mantalu is also observed this day, during which useless items of the household are tossed into a bonfire traditionally made of cow dung cakes and wood.

On the  second day – Thai Pongal–rice and milk are boiled together in an earthen pot , to which a turmeric plant is tied,  in the open as an offering to the sun god. Along with this, sticks of sugarcane, coconuts and bananas are also offered.

Kolam,( traditional rangoli designs made with rice flour) is an integral part of this day . Every home has intricate designs made at the entrance by the women of the house.

Pongal is made with freshly harvested rice with moong dhal boiled to a consistency of porridge. It is made both salty and sweet. When it’s made salty/savory – salt, mild spices and ghee are added (known as ven pongal – ven means white). Sweet pongal, known as chakkara pongal, is boiled with jaggery (raw brown sugar), raisins, nuts and milk.

Mattu Pongal which falls on the third day is celebrated for the cattle.Cows are decorated colourfully with bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands and worshipped.

Legend has it that Lord Shiva had once sent his bull, Basava, to earth with a message for the mortals, asking them to have an oil massage and bath daily, and to eat once a month. The bull however, mistakenly announced  that Shiva has asked people to eat daily and have an oil bath once a month.

Enraged, Shiva banished Basava to the earth,  cursing he would have to plough the fields to help people produce more food, explaining the association of this day to cattle.

Kanu Pongal marks the last day of Pongal. On this day, the leftover sweet Pongal and other foods are set out in the courtyard on a washed turmeric leaf, along with betel leaves, betel nuts and sugar cane. Women perform this ritual for the well-being and prosperity of their brothers.