Come January, North Indians gear up for “Lohri” celebration, Assamese get busy enjoying the “Bhogali Bihu”, Telegus of Andhra Pradesh rejoice “Makar Sankranti” festival, Gujaratis keenly await for the festival to fly kites “Uttarayan”, and religious Tamilians get in the festive mood of “Pongal”. As per the Gregorian calendar, Pongal is celebrated on 15th January each year. It is the “harvest festival” exclusively celebrated in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry. The Pongal celebration coincides with the traditional epiphany celebrations of the Tamil Catholics.
Historical Evidences: The first celebration of Pongal dates back to the Sangam Age which lasted from 200 B.C. to 300 A.D. In Sanskrit Puranas, Pongal has been clearly mentioned as the Dravidian Harvest festival. During the rule of the Pallavas between 4th to 8th Century AD, people celebrated ‘Pavai Nonbu’ at the time of Thai Niradal. Young girls offered prayer for rain and prosperity of the country. Throughout the month of Margazhi (from December to January), they observed penance by avoiding milk and milk based products, refrained from oiling their hair and using harsh words while communicating. Womenfolk worshipped the idol of Goddess Katyayani made of wet sand. They ended their ritual on the first day of the month of Thai (January-February). It was believed that their penance brought abundant rains necessary to flourish the paddy fields. These ancient rituals and traditions gave birth to the Pongal celebration.
Mythological Stories: According to Puranas, Lord Shiva requested his bull, Nandi, to visit the earth-dwellers and request humans to take bath each day and eat only once every month. Unintentionally, Nandi made a mistake and declared that mortals should consume food daily and perform oil bath only one time in a month. This blunder angered Lord Shiva. He banished Basava from Kailash and cursed him to survive on the earth forever as a ploughing bull that would toil hard in the fields and assist people to produce more crops. Thus, Pongal celebration is associated with cattle. Another legend says that, Lord Krishna in his childhood angered Lord Indra (king of all deities). Mischievous Krishna prevented all his cowherds from worshipping Lord Indra. As a consequence, Lord Indra sent thunderstorms and clouds. It rained continuously for 3 days. Lord Krishna lifted the gigantic Govardhan Parvat with his little finger to protect innocent humans and animals from the devastating storm and flood. Lord Indra realized his mistake and begged for Lord Krishna’s forgiveness. Krishna decided to honor Indra. Thus, this day gave the birth to the Pongal celebration.
The word Pongal means “boiling over”. It is the time to celebrate prosperity and offer thanksgiving to the rain and sun gods, earth, nature, animals and all those things that helped to achieve that good harvest. The Tamil harvest festival lasts for four days and each day has a special significance.
The first day is known as ‘Bhogi Pongal’. This day is observed to honor “Lord Indram – the Deity of Clouds and Rains”. All houses are cleaned and whitewashed. Doorways are decorated with “Kolam”. A special religious ceremony is performed before paddy harvesting. Crop growers worship the deities by smothering their sickles and ploughs with sandalwood and turmeric paste. These worshipped tools are used to cut newly harvested crops. In the evening, a special ritual called Bhogi Mantalu is performed. All the old clothes and agricultural wastes are discarded and burnt in a bonfire, marking the “start of a new life”. Young girls sing and dance praising the harvest and spring gods. .
The second day ‘Surya Pongal’ is celebrated to honour the Sun deity. Women wake up early in the morning to draw elaborate ‘Kolam (decoration done with coloured rice powder)’ on the grounds of their courtyards and doorways.