All you need to know about the Tamil harvest festival
Pongal or Thai Pongal is a four-day harvest festival celebrated by the Tamil community in India. The festival normally falls on January 13 or 14 and ends in four days. In 2015, it begins on January 13 and will go on till January 16. The word Pongal means ‘overflowing’ that signifies prosperity. On this day, Tamilians boil milk in new clay pots and let it overflow to portray abundance. The festival is a way of showing their gratefulness to the Sun God for the great harvest they had the previous year. On Pongal, Tamilians decorate their houses with mango and banana leaves, and colourful patterns of rice flour. The dishes are served in the traditional style by using banana leaves.
Pongal Dish (Pongal Pandigai)
The sweet dish made on the first day of the festival is itself called ‘pongal’. There are two types of pongal – one sweet and the other savoury. The sweet pongal is made of rice, cardamom, jaggery, raisins, green gram and cashew nuts. The dish is prepared in the morning and offered to Surya – the Indian Sun God. The dish is prepared in a new clay pot and is decorated with coloured decorations called ‘kollam’.
The first day of Pongal is Bhogi which starts with people discarding their old clothes and use buy new belongings. This practise is similar to the Holi celebrations in Northen India where old things are burnt in a bonfire, Tamilans follow the same traditions. On this day, Tamilians clean their houses and paint it to mark the celebrations. In villages, horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted getting them ready for the harvest festival and animals play a role in agriculture and cultivation. Punjabis celebrate Lohri the same day and in Assam the festival is called Magh Bihu / Bhogali Bihu.
The second day of the festival is Thai Pongal, celebrated across by Tamilians marking the end of the harvest season. This is the main day of the festival which is celebrated across by Tamilians. Thai Pongal also coincides with Makar Sankranti, the harvest festival celebrated across India on January 14 each year.
Kaanum Pongal / Karinaal / Thiruvalluvar Day
In Tamil Nadu, Kaanum Pongal (also known as Karinaal or Thiruvalluvar Day) falls on the third day and is celebrated with great fervour. On this day, brothers visit their married sisters and present them with gifts. Employees also are usually presented with gifts by employers on Kaanum Pongal. People visit their relatives and friends to wish them good luck and prosperity. This day marks the end of the Pongal festival.
Maatu Pongal is also celebrated on the third day, to felicitate animals who have a large role in agricultural activities like cows and cattle. Various games like Jallikkattu or taming the wild bull are celebrated on Mattu Pongal, marking this day for the animals who are considered no less than wealth. People also decorate cattle with garlands and colours to show their affection towards the animals.
Another traditional activity of the day is called Kanu Pidi. It is performed by the women of the house who pray for the health and well-being of their brothers by feeding birds. Rice, banana, cooked vegetables and sweet pongal are offered to the birds.