Pongal is a harvest festival equivalent to a thanksgiving event celebrated by Tamils across the world. Pongal coincides with the festival Makara Sankranthi celebrated in various parts of India. Pongal in Tamil means “boiling over or spill over.” The act of boiling over of milk in the clay pot is considered to denote future wishes for the family.Makara Sankranti/Thai Pongal celebrates the resumption of the sun’s ‘journey northwards’ where the days get longer. Tamil Hindus dedicate the first grain harvested to the sun on this ‘Surya Mangalya’.
The celebration of Makara Sankranti/Pongal is not confined to the Tamils. It is a pan-Indic event described in the Mahabharata. Bhishma chose to leave his mortal coils when the sun turned direction northwards – also known as the Uttarayana.
Makara Sankranti is referred to in the Surya Siddhanta. The Dharma Shastras mention Makara Sankranti. January 14 represents the climax of the Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh Mela. It is a traditional holiday/harvest in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, Maharashtra, Nepal, the Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
Traditionally celebrated at harvest time, it’s a celebration of the prosperity associated with the harvest by thanking the rain, sun and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest. In villages, new clothes are worn and people owning cows find this festival important. Pongal is celebrated by the Indian state of Tamil Nadu as well as Tamils worldwide, including those in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, USA, Canada and Singapore. The festival is at least 1000 years old although some believe that the festival is more than 2000 years old. As per epigraphic evidence, it used to be celebrated as Puthiyeedu during Medieval Chola empire days.
Pongal is hought that Puthiyeedu meant the first harvest of the year. Tamils refer to Pongal as “Tamizhar Thirunal” meaning “the festival of Tamils”. This festival originated in Tamil Nadu. The saying “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” meaning “the birth of the month of Thai will pave the way for new opportunities” is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival. Usually, the festival takes place January 12 — 15 on the Gregorian calendar. The festival is celebrated four days from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi December — January to the third day of Thai January — February. The first day, Bhogi, is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials, by setting them on fire, marking the end of the old Thai and the emergence of the new Thai.
The second day, Pongal, is the main day, falling on the first day of the Tamil month Thai January 14 — 15. Also known as Sarkarai Pongal or Veetu Pongal, it is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots, which are later topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel. This tradition gives Pongal its name. The moment the rice boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of “Ponggalo Ponggal!” and blowing the sangu a conch, a custom practiced during the festival to announce it was going to be a year blessed with good tidings.
For Tamils, it is considered a good sign to watch it boil over, since it means that good luck and prosperity is forthcoming. Then new boiled rice is offered to the Nature during sunrise, a gesture which symbolises thanks to the sun and nature for providing prosperity. It is later served to the people present in the house for the ceremony. People also prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, murukku, payasam and visit each other and exchange greetings
The third day, Maattu Pongal, is for offering thanks to cattle, as they help farmer in different ways for agriculture. On this day the cattle are decorated with paint, flowers and bells. They are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane. Some people decorate the horns with gold or other metallic covers. In some places, Jallikattu, or taming the wild bull contest, is the main event of this day and this is mostly seen in the villages.
During the final day, Kaanum Pongal (the word kaanum means “to view”) people visit their relatives, friends to enjoy the festive season, but in the cities this day is synonymous with people flocking to beaches and theme parks to have a day out with their families. They also chew sugar cane and decorate their houses with kolam. This day is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. Although it started as a farmers festival, today it has become a national festival for all Tamils irrespective of their origins, caste or even religion. It is as popular in urban areas as is in rural areas.
Pongal is the one of the biggest festival in Tamilnadu. There will be 3 or 4 days continuous holidays announced by state government.