Being away from home country leaves you with nostalgic memories on special occasions. Festivals and celebrations back home are always missed. Away from family and friends means missing out on all the fun and live-action on those days. On a positive note, however, nowadays, it seems ex-pats celebrate such special days more meaningfully and colourfully than those back home. My company in UAE was no different when it declared a holiday for the staff from Tamil Nadu to celebrate Pongal 2021. Harvest festivals in India are celebrated these days. In different states, they are celebrated differently and with different names.
Bihu, Makar Sankranti, Lohri, Pongal are festivals that mark the passing of the winter solstice and the harvesting season ahead. Makar Sankranti is celebrated throughout India while others are basically peculiar to different states in the country. Pongal 2021 is being celebrated mainly in Tamil Nadu like past years and the main day was on 14th January. The festive mood lasts for four days known as Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal, Maattu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal. The Pongal celebrations this year are from January 14th to January 17th.
History and Significance – Pongal 2021
Following the Tamil Solar calendar, the festival usually falls in the middle of January. It also corresponds with Makar Sankranti. The origin of Pongal celebrations dates back to the Chola period. King Kulottunga I of the same era is said to have gifted a stretch of land to Viraraghava temple to celebrate the festival every year. It is celebrated mostly by farmers to show gratitude to the Sun God, the giver of life for the blessings of a rich harvest. People believe Pongal brings material prosperity, agricultural richness and peace. The rich and meaningful tradition has been commemorated every year.
Pongal is derived from the term pongu meaning ‘to boil over’ or ‘flourish’ in Tamil. For those who celebrate it, the very term Pongal brings the memories of a dish prepared on this day. The special dish is cooked filling a new clay pot with milk and fresh rice. Then, adding ginger, turmeric, jaggery, cashew nuts, raisins and ghee as it cooks until it boils over the pot. It signifies the overflowing fortunes in the coming harvesting season.
Pongal festival throws light on the agricultural sector and the lifestyle of farmers in Southern India. The rich culture and folklores revolving around nature, farming and crops are enlivened. The special four days of Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal, Maatu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal are being celebrated jubilantly in Pongal 2021.
Preparations and Celebrations
Houses are decorated with banana leaves and Kolam are made at the entrances. Kolams are so attractive and skilful artworks so easily done by the women of the family. Oil lamps are lit at night to illuminate the area. Special prayers and offerings are made at temples. Family members wear new dresses and exchange gifts. Relatives and friends visit each other’s houses to exchange pleasantries.
Special vegetarian food items are also cooked during these days. Among them, Ven Pongal, Sweet Pongal, Rava Pongal and Chakkara Pongal are very popular. Main ingredients among other spices, jaggery and dry nuts and fruits are rice and lentils to cook these dishes. Mostly these are cooked in the new utensils using firewood. The family gather around the cooking pot as the first broth overflows the pot. The food is then enjoyed traditionally after the ritual prayers.
By the first day, the decorations and overall festive mood elevate the spirit of people. Worshipping Lord Indra, the giver of rains marks beginning of celebrations across households. The prosperity of the agricultural land depends on the adequate rains they receive. Appeasing the Lord by singing, dancing and praising him the celebrations continue through the day until the night. By night a bonfire is made of agricultural wastage and useless household woods. Family members gather to make the day meaningful and memorable.
On the second day, the Sun God is honoured. Beautiful ‘Kolams’ are made at the entrances of houses. This is done by the women of the household in the morning itself. The family members wear traditional attire. A pot of rice with milk cooked and offered to Surya at dawn marks the second day of celebrations. The offering is made with sticks of sugarcane, coconuts, and bananas. In certain places, coming together as a community, the womenfolk perform this traditional ritual.
The third day is for honouring the cattle used for harvest. Maattu Pongal thus becomes a noble day to show gratitude to the animals of the household. Ploughing, carrying loads in and out of the fields, providing milk and in several other ways cattle are used. Hence, on this day the cattle are cleaned, scrubbed and their horns are painted. Multi-coloured beads, tinkling bells and flower garlands are placed around their necks. The cattle are fed well with several fruits and their favourite food. You will be amazed by the way people honour their cattle on this day.
A day set aside to strengthen the human bond. A meaningful celebration this is. The fourth day celebrated as Kannum Pongal, is all about the community and strengthening ties among people. Living together as a farming community in villages, people are dependent on each other. It is essential to maintain a good rapport with everyone around and within the family. Younger members seek the blessing of the older members of their families. Landlords distribute clothes, food and money to their workers. The women of the family pray for the whole family. Aarti with turmeric water, rice, vermillion, limestone, and holy water are sprinkled in and around the house.
Wish you all a prosperous season ahead !!
A Travel enthusiast and Foodie, craving to explore the intricate beauty of nature and its gift of delectable treats. Pens down his thoughts and experiences to present a delightful journey for his readers