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January 14th

Pongal-An Introduction
The great diversity of Indian religious beliefs and the varied cultured traditions of the different states are very interesting and this is seen in the festival of Pongal.
"May the pot of prosperity boil over
May the Pongal that we cook,
the fragrance of turmeric
the taste of sugarcane, ginger and honey
Bring the joy of Pongal into our homes
May the blessings of the Sun God flood our lives".

In South India, Pongal Sankraanti is the biggest festival of Hindu. This festival of Pongal falls in the month of January after the winter solstice and as such this Pongal festival marks the favorable course of the Sun. It is a three-day festival and the fourth day is a day for outdoors and excursions. In Tamil Naadu it has an additional significance as Pongal welcomes the occasion of the incoming harvest.

The word "Pongal" literally has two connotations. Firstly it is the name of the special dish cooked on this day and secondly the word "Ponga" means "boil", so the word 'Pongal' means that which is overflowing. Pongal represents a kind of thanks giving for the plentiful paddy crop that the farmer has harvested during the mild winter months in the south of India. The festival always starts on 13th January every year and coincides with Lohadee of Panjaab. The actual day of Pongal celebration is 14th January. Prior to Pongal, every house is cleaned, whitewashed and dusted. New utensils are purchased. New clothes are purchased for the celebration of the festival.

There is a beautiful Tamil composition of the ancient Sangam period which was known for the ancient Tamil Academics. This charming composition describes the joy of a love-born young woman on the return of her husband from the battlefield. Her happiness is likened to the month before Pongal. When, with the end of rains, the "kaya" flowers blossom, the tender `Konrai' flowers shower their golden pollen on the ground, the white "Kandal" flowers, the tender 'Konrai' plant is in full bloom and with receding clouds the female and male deer are making love in the fields. This poem describes the mood of anticipation and excitement of the people in Tamil Naadu which gets its main rains from the north-eastern monsoon in October and November and the harvest is gathered in the period just preceding this Pongal festival.

Bhogee Pongal
The first day of Pongal is celebrated as the Bhogee Pongal and is usually meant for domestic activities and of being together with the family members. This first day is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, the supreme ruler of clouds that give rains. Homage is paid to Lord Indra for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land.

An interesting story is told that Indra, being worshipped by all on this day, became proud and arrogant. Lord Krishn to teach him a lesson asked his shepherd friends to worship Mount Govardhan instead of Indra on Bhogee Pongal day. Terribly enraged, Indra sent forth the seven clouds to bring forth thunder, lightning and heavy rains to cause deluge to destroy the shepherds. But Lord Krishn lifted up the Govardhan mountain on His small finger of left hand, under which the shepherds and their cattle got full shelter. It rained for seven days and seven nights. Then Indra begged Krishn's forgiveness and once more Lord Krishn allowed Bhogee celebrations to continue in honor of Indra. There is a beautiful carving at Mahaabalipuram showing Krishn lifting Govardhan mountain.

On this day before sunrise a huge bonfire is lit in front of the houses and all the useless household things are thrown into the fire. The burning of all that is old is symbolic of the starting of a fresh new year. The bonfire is kept burning throughout the night while boys beat little drums known by the name "Bhogee Kottus" made from the hides of buffaloes. Homes are cleaned till they literally shine and are adorned with "Kolam" designs drawn with white paste of newly-harvested rice and outlines of the Kolam designs with red mud. In villages yellow pumpkin flowers are set out in cow-dung balls in the middle of the designs. The harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in and kept ready for the next day's festivities.

Soorya Pongal (Peram Pongal)
The second day of Pongal is known as Soorya Pongal or  Peram Pongal and is dedicated to the Sun God. This is the first day of the new month known as "Thai" in Tamil Naadu, equivalent to the Northern Indian lunar month of "Maagh". This day is celebrated as Sankraanti in the northern region of Karnaatak, Makar Sankraanti in Mahaaraashtra and Gujaraat and many parts of India. A plank is placed on the ground and Kolam designs are drawn on its sides. In the centre of the plank is drawn a large figure of the Sun God with his effulgent rays. Mango-leaf strings (Bandanvaar) are tied all across the doorways or around the pillars. The banana and sugarcane plants are made stand against the doorways or near the gates to form beautiful archways. New clothes are worn after an early bath. The "Poojaa" of the Soorya God starts after the auspicious moment of the birth of the new month "Thai". Prayers are offered to the Sun God to seek his benedictions.

The preparation of this special dish needs a new mud-pot called Pongapani on which artistic designs are drawn. The village fair where these pots of different shapes and designs are sold is truly an aesthetic treat for the eyes to behold as also the specially set up colorful sugarcane market. While the 'Poojaa' is being performed, the neck of the Pongapani is tied with fresh turmeric and fresh ginger saplings with tender green leaves. The green leaves are symbolic of prosperity, the turmeric of auspiciousness, ginger for the spice of life. The special dish called "Sarkkarai Pongal" is cooked in this mud-pot. After the rituals of Poojaa are over "Sarkkarai Pongal" with sticks of sugarcane is offered to the Sun god as a thanksgiving for the plentiful harvest. Sugarcane that is offered is symbolic for sweetness and happiness in life. A grand lunch is there in the family consisting of Idalee, Dosaa, and rice cooked in different ways.

There are several legends associated with Peram Pongal. A sage named Hem prayed to Lord Vishnu on the banks of the Pottramarai tank in Kumbaakonam. On Peram Pongal day, the Lord is believed to have taken the form of Sarangapani and blessed the sage. Yet in another legend, it is said that on this day Lord Sundareshwar in the Madurai temple performed a miracle and breathed life into a stone elephant who could eat sugarcane. The carving of this event is in Meenaakshee Temple. From this month of Thai, the marriage season starts in Tamil Naadu.

Mattu Pongal
The third day Pongal is "Mattu Pongal" which is the festival of cattle. In Tamil, Mattu means cow or bull and also represents prosperity. For farmers cow, the giver of milk and the bull which pulls the plough in the fields are very valuable and therefore the farmers honor their dumb friends by celebrating it as a day of thanks-giving to them. Farmers pray for the good health of the cattle so that the animals can multiply and bring prosperity. The cattle are bathed, their horns are painted and decorated with Haldee and Kumkum. Some cover with shining metal caps. Multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands are hung around their necks. They are fed with Pongal dish and taken to the village centers. The resounding of their bells attract the villagers as the young men race each other's cattle. Big commotion is seen when the game "Manjee Virattu" starts in which groups of young men chase the running bulls.

In some places "Jallikattu" is arranged. It is a bull-fight in which money bags are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls and unarmed young men are asked to wrestle with the bull's horns. Such an activity leads to betting and gambling which are allowed on this day. Group dancing on music is one of the highlight of this day. In fact, in ancient Tamil literature, men had to subdue the bull in order to win the hand of a fair maiden and even Lord Krishna is believed to have defeated seven bulls before marrying Nappinnai. Unlike in the Spanish bullfights, in Manjee-virattu, the bull is never killed. Mattu Pongal has little significance to city folks. In most urban homes, the day is celebrated as Kannu Pongal. Special prayers are offered by women for the well-being of their brothers. Families visit museums, temples and other places of interest as this day is a public holiday in Tamilnaadu. On the Mattu Pongal day Lord Ganesh and Goddess Paarvatee are worshipped and Pongal is offered to them in the Poojaa.

According to a legend, once Shiv asked his bull, Baasav (Nandee), to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Baasav announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiv who then cursed Baasav, banishing him to live on the Earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food. Hence the association of this day with cattle.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 09/29/13