Some interesting facts about the Hindu festival Pongal (Sankaranthi)

In India there are various Hindu festivals - temple festivals as well as religious community festivals. Though the same festivals are being followed by various cultures, the method of celebration and food  to be eaten on the festive days may vary from state to state and from caste to caste. This is the dynamics of Indian culture that remains unbroken for centuries, keeping the old traditions and customs in tact; in this respect, it is obvious, India stands apart from the rest of other countries.  This diversity of homogenous Indian culture (with limited variations) is the hallmark of India. Among the Hindu festivals, Pongal is a popular one, dedicated to one of the Pancha Boothas (five essential elements)  - Agni / light whose source is the Sun - our  perennial source of energy, without which, we will perish.
Pongal festival Tamil Nadu.

Pongal (Telugu: Sankranthi ), a four-day festival is an important one in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry,  Sri Lanka and other countries where Tamil speaking people live. It is a harvest festival that falls on 14 January to 16 January (vide Gregorian Calendar). It marks the end of Tamil month Margazhi on 14 January and the beginning of the first day of Thai -15 January. Also called Thai Pongal, it corresponds to Makara Sankranti, the winter harvest festival celebrated throughout India. Thai is the traditional month of weddings and family ceremonies.

Pongal pandigai (festival)  Tamil Nadu.

Fascinating facts of the Pongal festival:


01. Astronomically speaking, the day marks the Uttarayanam or Uttarayana Kaalam - the beginning of the sun’s six-month long journey northwards towards equinox, corresponding to the Indic solstice when the sun enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Makara or Capricorn. Thai Pongal is a sort of ''thanksgiving'' festival to the Sun God - Surya for his relentless  routine work without which successful  harvest is impossible not withstanding the fact our sustenance on this planet is impossible. The festival consists of cooking of sweetened rice food called Pongal,  first dedicated to the Sun.

02. Pongal is a festival of great antiquity, dating as far back as 1000 plus years as confirmed by the epigraphical evidence found in the Puthiyeedu during the Medieval Chola empire days. Puthiyeedu refers to the very first harvest of the year.

03. Commonly in the month of Thai (January-February ) cash  crops like rice, sugarcane, turmeric etc., are harvested. Hence, Pongal festival is associated with the annual harvest season.

04. The term 'pongal' in Tamil means "to boil over", 
symbolic of our happiness and agricultural produce ''overflowing the brim''.  This festival is an expression of our gratitude to the  the sun god, a perineal source of light  and energy.  People of all castes celebrate it with  the same religious zeal. Particularly, in the rural areas, it is very popular and the farm workers get a reward called Pongl Enam in the form of cash, clothes, etc., from the  big land owners. 

05. This festival is called Makara Sankranti in Andhra and other states, Bihu in Bihar and Uttarayana in Rajasthan and Gujarat and Maghi in Punjab and Haryana.

06. Pongal is the name of a dish consumed during this festive time, which is sweetened rice boiled with lentils, jaggery (country sugar), grated coconut, etc.  

07. During the auspicious days of any month in Tamil Nadu, offering of Pongal Prasadam is a common one and this traditional practice at Hindu temples has been in vogue for centuries. It is prepared in the temple kitchen called Madappally in Tamil and the cooks are from the local Brahmin community, a tradition that is followed across India, Example, Puri jagannath temple, Odisha, Viswanath temple, Varanasi, UP. Invariably, only the traditional hearth and utensils are used for making offering  (prasadam)

08. The Bhogi festival, celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, the god of rain, is the first day of Pongal. According to the Hindu mythology 
Lord Indra is believed to be responsible for the copious supply of rain, including potable water  and abundance of harvest, thereby bringing  prosperity to the land. Also referred to as  Bhogi Mantalu, on this day, it has been a tradition to clean the household. Useless items are disposed of by way of creating a bonfire  into which they are thrown. This implies getting rid of all the negative  elements that create negative energy and making room for positive energy in the house.

09. The bonfire is made of traditionally  dried cow dung cakes and firewood. but, it is not so, nowadays.

Kolam drawn in front of a house.

10. Thai Pongal is the second day of the festival, being the most important one. In addition to rice, jaggery (in Tamil Vellam) and milk, the ingredients of Pongal dish include cardamom, raisins, Green gram (split), and cashew nuts. Cooking is done in sunlight, usually in a porch or courtyard, as the dish is dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. Pongal is  cooked during the auspicious  time (as prescribed in the Almanac (Panjangam) in a decorated  preferably  an earthen pot with turmeric plants tied around it. In some places,  pongal is cooked in the open part of the house under sunlight.  In some places in the villages, mass cooking is done  at the appointed time with devotion in the open near the  temple by the women.

hot steaming rice for pongal preparation. en.wikipedia. 

earthen pot, pongal cooking in the open yard  before temple.India Today

The cooked pongal is offered first to the Sun and other deities, then only family members and others partake of it along with side dishes.

11. In front of the houses, in the early morning of the Pongal day, the ladies after a head bath, draw kolams - rangoli of various geometric patterns and colors. This is done to invite deities, meaning inviting positive energy into the household and driving out the negative energy. 

Kolam drawn in front of

Pongal kolam, rangoli, Tamil

12. The unique part of this festival is on the third day that is earmarked for the cow and bull  called Mattu Pongal (in Tamil Mattu means cattle, in particular cow). Cows and bulls are decorated with bells, paper garlands, garlands of Multi-colored beads, etc. Their horns are coated with a fresh coat of paint. We get  an array of stuff - milk, butter, cheese, etc.,  from cows, and they make valuable contribution to the growth of humans from their childhood. 
It is imperative to express our gratitude to cows, which are an integral part of our lives. The same thing is also offered to the bulls that mostly work on the forms.- ploughing the agricultural lands, taking the produce to the market, etc. The cattle , including the young ones are fed with ''pongal' dish  prepared as part of the festivities and an aarthi is taken before them by the women in the family. In the past decades in the delta areas of Thanjavur, Thruvarur  districts, etc., the use of bulls on the agri-lands is on the decline as many farms are mechanized. Prior to 1970s in the rural areas one could see one or two bulls being used to operate the Mara Chekku ( wooden oil press; in local parlance mara means wood, Chekku means press).

Mara Chekku, (country wooden oil-press)

 chekku means oil press) for extraction of cold-pressed groundnut, gingili (also gingelly- Ellu in Tamil), coconut oil and others. 

Pongal. decorated bull,Tamil

Tamil nadu women worship the cow.

decorated bull.  pongal. Sadhguru

13.  On this day, many Hindu families in  the villages worship cows. and do the aarthi to them. In the town, Hindus do the worship before the photos, preferably Kamadenu. Many go to the near-by Gosalas, to offer fruits, vegetables  and spinach to them. So, this festival is  celebrated in the name of cows / bulls to express our thanks to them. Worshipping cows, it is believed, will bring prosperity to the family. Goddess Lakshmi blesses those homes where the people care for the animals particularly cows and bulls. Hence, a preponderance of Hindu population  would never eat beef. 

14. Kaanum (or Kanu) Pongal is the final day of the Pongal festival. The ritual involves putting the left-over of Pongal, venn pongal (unsweetened) etc., on a  cleaned long turmeric leaf in the open courtyard of the house. It also contains bits of  banana, sugarcane, etc. This is done by young girls / women,  praying for the welfare and longevity of their brothers. ''Aarthi'' is performed for the brothers with turmeric water mixed with lime and rice. Elderly people make a  mark with turmeric on their forehead so that they can lead a long happy wedded life - as Sumangali.

15. On this day, people consume a variety of cooked rice food such as coconut bath (saatham / food), pongal, puliyodharai (tamarind bath) curd bath, etc., along with vegetable dishes.

 With the advent of Tamil month Thai, the first Tamil month, important family functions, weddings will take place after a brief break.  Business people open new businesses in this auspicious month, befitting the Tamil adage "Thai pirandhal vazhi pirakkum" meaning with the birth of Thai, a new path will be in sight to put our worries behind and surge forward placing trust in God. Money earned from  a good harvest forms the economic basis for weddings, opening new business ventures, buying houses, etc. So, every Hindu festival has some kind of message that is good for the welfare of the community and social harmony.