Pongal (Sankaranthi), a joyous harvest festival of Tamil Nadu and other states


 India is a vast secular country with diverse cultures, traditions and languages and almost every month there is a festival or two somewhere  that will keep the people happy and occupied. Many Psychologists  are of the view that  such festivals not only promote unity and togetherness among various communities, but also help them  free from   mundane existence  and  stressful life and be at peace with themselves.  Festivals  offer us a fine  chance to rejuvenate our otherwise drab and dry life and look ahead with positive mind.

Pongal, being an important Hindu festival dedicated to the Sun God, is celebrated passionately  in Tamil Nadu, heralding the harvest season  of such cash crops as sugar, rice turmeric, etc. This age-old festival has been around for more than 1000 years since the time of the Chola rulers of Tamil Desam. This  four-day celebration lasting from  January 15  to January 18 (according to the Tamil Calendar)  is more or less an agrarian festival and the villagers, particularly, farmers celebrate it with joy and religious fervor.  Thai Pongal (as it is celebrated on the first   day of Tamil month ''Thai'') goes by another name  Makara Sankranthi or simply Sankaranthi  in the neighboring states and across India. It marks the Sun's long journey northward -Uttirayanam (Sun enters the Indian Zodiac Makara/Capricon).

Basically, it is a sort of  thanks giving-festival where-in the people and village folks express their gratitude in profusion to the Sun God (Surya),  Demigod Indira who causes  the rain at the right time of sowing and other Punja bootha elements for their cooperation in successfully raising the crops - the life blood of rural India. People do not leave the farm animals that toil for us on the fields to have good yields  and transport the produce to the market.
The first day of Pongal is Bogi dedicated to lord Indira, god of   rain.  On this day all the useless things in the house are cleared and thrown into a traditional bonfire (for reasons of air pollution people do not follow this tradition). The house is white-washed and freshly painted to have a festive look.  This way we express our indebtedness to  mother nature on one hand  and avail ourselves of the opportunity of  discarding darkness and bringing in brightness and joy to our household on the other hand. Discarding the worn-out stuff, etc symbolizes  driving out bad thoughts and negative attitude
pongal preparation Dr. MGR Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women
 On the second day is  the main festival Pongal (in Tamil it means to boil)  that falls on the very first day of the  Tamil month month  Thai. On this day in the morning, after taking head bath and drawing traditional Kolam (Rangoli) in the front part of the house at the entrance, the women in the house prepare Pongal, a sweetened dish  made of boiled rice, moong dal, milk and jaggery. They use preferably an   earthen pot tied with turmeric leaves and  boil the ingredients together in the open (preferably) on the stove./hearth at a ''specified time''as fixed by the Pundits. The venue of Pongal preparation will be an open space or courtyard of a house.  Once it is prepared, along with the family members, they make the offering to the God with sugar cane, etc with a simple puja ritual and then share it among them and others. This is symbolic of bringing out our  positive thoughts to the brim so that we can surge ahead in the coming year with positive attitude and energy.

The 3rd day of Pongal is called Mattu Pongal and, on this day, cows and bulls are well decorated  and fed  with sumptuous food after doing puja to them. According to the Hindu mythology,  Basava ( bull) failed to convey properly the  message given by Lord Shiva  to the people on earth, the lord cursed him to plough  the  agricultural lands and be of help to the farmers. This punishment was given to Basava  for  negligence of his duty. This one emphasizes our dependency on farm animals that form an integral part of our society.

The fourth day of celebration is called  the Kaanum (or Kanu) Pongal. On this day, some dishes,  betel nuts, betel leaves and sugarcane are kept in the open on a turmeric leaf. Women perform this ritual and pray for the  prosperity  and welfare of their brothers who, in turn, pay special  tributes by way of gifts, etc. This one gives due importance to the close-knit family and love and care among the family members.