The spirit of Pongal, the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu, is celebrated on January 14th every year coinciding with Makar Sankranti in the North, Lohri in Punjab, Bhogali Bihu in Assam and Bhogi of Andhra Pradesh.
The festival marks the harvest of crops and a special thanksgiving to God, the sun, the earth and the cattle. With the end of the wet month of Margazhi (mid December to mid January) the new Tamil month of Thai heralds a series of festivals. The first day of this month is a festival day known as ” Pongal Day”. Pongal means the boiling over of milk and rice during the month of Thai.
Pongal is directly associated with the annual cycle of seasons. It not only marks the reaping of the harvest, but also the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons in southern India. As the cycle of season rings out the old and ushers in the new, so is the advent of Pongal connected with cleaning up the old, burning down rubbish, and welcoming in new crops.
Falling just after the winter solstice and a bountiful harvest, Pongal marks the season of celebration and joyous activities. Mainly a three-day festival, the fourth day just after the festival is dedicated to outdoors and excursions. . On the first day, the sun is worshipped, signifying its movement from Cancer to Capricorn. This is also why, in other parts of India, this harvest festival and thanksgiving is called ‘Makar Sankranti’. [Sanskrit Makar = Capricorn]
The four day celebration of Pongal marks a period of plenty, peace and happiness. There is a Tamil saying that “Thai peranthal Vali Perakum”. That paraphrased means with the dawn of the month of Thai, there will be peace, happiness, prosperity, brightness and harmony in the life of everyone. It is held to honor the Sun, for a bountiful harvest.
Families gather to rejoice and share their joy and their harvests with others. The Sun is offered a “Pongal” of rice and milk. Each day of the four-day festival has its own name and distinct fashion of celebration.
Pongal also marks the beginning of a New Year and is the day to praise and thank God with full devotion and faith and sincerity of heart. Old vices and past should be abandoned forever on this day, as we get ready to start life afresh. The festival covers all living beings including humans, cattle and birds and crops. Even the insects have not been overlooked and are offered rice flour to feed on in the form of ‘Kollam’ on the entranceway of the houses. Thus, Pongal is a day for peace and happiness for all.