Pongal festival that imparts positivity to life in a new year


That India is a land of various festivals mostly related to religion and culture is a well-known fact. Many of these festivals are colorful and quite engaging as they are celebrated in different styles, depending on the states and communities. Pongal, also called Makara Sankarathi in other states, is an important festival in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and  Pondicherry. Much more joyously and excitedly it is celebrated in the rural  and semi rural areas than in urban spaces  of these states.  Pongal  is a four-day festival that marks
the  Uttarayanam - the beginning of the sun’s six-month long journey northwards towards equinox (the sun enters the 10th house of the Indian Zodiac Makara or Capricorn). This harvest festival, dedicated to the Sun (lord Surya) without which life on earth can not sustain, has been around for centuries and this year (2018) it falls on  January 14 (according to Gregorian Calendar).  Bogi, being the first day of the festival, which happens to be the last day of the Tamil month of Margazhi. 

Pongal festival, Tamil Nadu. indiatoday.intoday.in

This traditional Hindu festival is said to be  the harbinger of good luck, prosperity and good harvest. This Pongal festival ('Pandikai'in  the local parlance  Tamil) has been around for centuries. Centuries back when Monarchy  (Monarch was the head of the government and  succession to the throne was hereditary ) was in practice, it used to be grand event  celebrated with pomp and pageantry. 

The four day festival  is also observed in the month of Thai - commonly the traditional month of weddings and family ceremonies, beginning with January 14  ( second day celebration).  Crops such as rice, etc.,  are harvested in this month, hence it is a joyful occasion to express our gratitude to the mother earth and other elements  (Pancha boothas) of nature, in particular, water (in the form of rain). One of the trinity gods Shiva embodies all the five elements - water, fire, earth, air and sky (either) without which sustenance of living things on earth is impossible. 

The word  ''Pongal'' in Tamil means ‘overflow’ or ‘boiling over’ and it marks the the gradual heating of the Earth's surface by the Sun. This is the reason why the festival begins (on the first of Thai, the rest being  Mattu Pongal and the last one Kanum Pongal) by preparing  a special dish called Sakkarai Pongal (sweetened boiled rice with  Jaggery, grated  coconut, turmeric  and lentils), using freshly harvested rice.  The Pongal is brought  to boil till it spills over the earthen-pot in rural (in urban areas, bronze pot is  widely used).  Offering it to the Sun God by the family members  along with puja, is made  before eating it.

The important aspects of Pongal are drawing colorful Kolams (Rangolis), using different color (mostly rice flour is used) in front of the home and Puja room to give a grand welcome to Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) to bring in property, good health and peace of mind to the family and to the community. 

Mattu Pongal. www.newsbugz.com

The four day celebrations associated with this festival are :  Bhogi Pongal - the first day of the festival- is dedicated to God Indira. A huge bonfire is lit and kept burning throughout the night. In many houses  in the past  huge bonfire would be  lit and all the unwanted old stuff would be thrown into the fire, signifying a fresh start on the first of Thai month. However, this custom of disposal of used stuff is on the decline, as it may cause air pollution and  further, a large population is living in congested, cramped up urban space where burning the old stuff may cause fire hazard and health problem. The second day festival called Thai Pongal or Surya Pongal is the main festival dedicated to the Sun. On his day,  special dish Pongal is made in a traditional way and after puja and offering to the Sun, family members partake of this dish and other dishes  together. The third day festival - Mattu Pongal  is an occasion to express our gratitude to the cattle - cows that give milk and other related products; their use is quite indispensable to us and bulls that plough the agricultural lands  to make them ready for paddy cultivation, etc ., and carry the produce to the market (modern agriculture is mechanized in many places). In the good old days (in the mid 1950s)  in the rural areas of Thanjavur district (my native place) on many occasions I myself saw bulls being used to operate the  Mara Chekku (extraction of oil groundnut oil coconut oil, etc.,  through cold press). The cattle are decorated - colorful garlands and bells 

Jallikattu, you tube. 

are tied around their  necks and puja is done  before them by the owners, particularly women folks. As a follow up on specified days in many places in the evening  there will be  a cattle race and jallikattu. Southern districts of Tamil Nadu are well-known for Jallikattu. The latter  takes place on make-shift arenas specified by the  state government. It involves taming of bulls by  trained tamers and  is considered a dangerous game. The animal protection groups have made  a big  issue that the bulls are being ill treated by the tamers at Jallikattu. It the recent past, it turned out to be a serious social issue at the national level with political overtone. The last day known as Kaanum (kanu) pongal is more or less a family affair. Young girls pray to God for the longevity of their family, in particular, brothers by way of performing Aarthi. Elderly people put a mark  with turmeric on the forehead of couples and pray for happy married life as Sumangali. 

Pongal greetings. Pinrest. com

The underlying fact in this fascinating festival is money earned during the harvest time will help the people supplement their income. In this auspicious month and later, people  will open new business, construct houses, conduct weddings, etc. The Tamil  proverb "Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum" meaning with the birth of Thai, a new path will be in sight to put our worries behind. It is quite appropriate as people begin the new Thai month on a positive note.