Pongal, a harvest festival is globally celebrated fervently by Tamils. This festival has a duration of 4 days. Pongal rituals are carried out with great enthusiasm and pleasure. The rituals performed themselves describe the significance of the festival
This four-day festival starts on the first day of Tamil Month, Thai. It can be related to American festival known as Thanksgiving Day. Each day has its unique feature and importance.
The day prior to Pongal is known as Bhogi Pongal. Homes are cleaned and needless items are thrown away. A look at the home through painting and decorating is given. As this festival is about discarding old things and bringing new things at home, a bonfire is lit outside the house to burn unwanted articles. New clothes, new utensils, new household utilities are bought to begin the celebrations.
The first day of new Tamil Month, Thai, is celebrated with the preparation of a sweet dish made of rice, jaggery, milk, cashew nuts, raisins etc. known a Pongal. People relish this dish jointly and decorate their houses with Kolam (rangolis) made with the help of rice flour and outlined with red clay. The Sun God, Surya Dev is appeased through prayer on this day.
The third day is Mattu Pongal, celebrated to glorify cattle that help farmers in myriad ways. On this day, the cows are bathed and decorated with vermilion and garlands and fed. In certain villages in southern Tamil Nadu, a bullfight called manji-virattu is held in the evening. Bags of coins are tied to the sharpened horns of ferocious bulls that are let loose in an open ground. The young men of the village vie with each other to subdue the bull and grab the bags tied to the horns.
The last day of Pongal festival, Kaanum Pongal is celebrated on the fourth day of Pongal festival. Mattu Pongal is mostly celebrated in the rural Tamilnadu and the Kaanum Pongal is celebrated mostly by the urbanites when they visit friends and relatives and go to beaches, theme parks or picnic to unwind themselves. Gifts are exchanged and some of them go to see and listen to traditional dance and music performance. Mattu Pongal is the day for cattle when they are pampered, Kaanum Pongal is dedicated to birds who feast on different varieties of Rice. Special prayers are offered by women for the well-being of their brothers.
The Tamils also remember the poet Thiruvalluvar, who was born on this day.
Ritual of Pongal
Sugarcane is a must part of Pongal rituals. Sale of long, juicy sugar-canes goes up every year during Pongal festival. People buy new clothes on this day. The pot in which the sweet dish, ‘Pongal’ is being prepared is decorated beautifully. Pieces of turmeric and ginger are tied to the pot. As per rituals, the milk is allowed to boil and spill over while preparing the dish. When the milk boils and bubbles out of the vessel, people shout in chorus – ‘Pongalo Pongal’. People also believe that the beginning of the new month, Thai will bring happiness and new opportunities will come. It will solve problems in the family.
Pongal is one of the most awaited festivals for Tamilians. Pongal is an ancient festival but it is celebrated with excitement and zeal even today. Apart from the villages, even Tamilians living in modern cities celebrate it with joy. Even though it is a very old festival, the rituals and celebrations remain the same even today without external influences.