Pongal Date: January 14 to January 17
Pongal is a Hindu festival celebrated in India but it is NOT a public holiday.
Pongal is the Harvest Festival which is considered equivalent to a Thanksgiving celebration. Pongal is celebrated by all Tamils—natives of Tamil Nadu, India—across the world. In Tamil, Pongal means “to boil or spill over”, and that spilled abundance is celebrated every January.
History of Pongal in India
The history of the Pongal festival can be traced back as far as 200 B.C. It originated as a Dravidian harvest festival of the Thai Un and Thai Niradal people. The festival has been practiced since, practices spreading across many parts of India.
Several legends also exist telling of the origin of Pongal. According to one legend, Lord Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to spread word to the mortal realm that baths and oil massages should be performed daily, yet eating should be limited to once a month. Basava confused Shiva’s message and told the mortals to eat daily but shower and massage once a month. Enraged, Shiva banished Basava to the mortal realm to forever toil in the fields producing food for all.
Another legend has a young Lord Krishna try to teach a lesson to an arrogant Lord Indra, king of deities. Lork Krishna petitioned the cowherds not to pray to Lord Indra, but this act angered Lord Indra who sent down a torrent of rain for three days. With compassion, Lord Krishna raised Mount Govardhan, saving the human population, but not without Lord Indra recognizing the err of his ways.
India’s Pongal Traditions, Customs and Activities
Pongal is celebrated for four days. The first day is called “Bhogi” and is celebrated by throwing away old ragged clothes and old unusable items and burning them early in the morning. This depicts the discarding of the old items and making provisions for new things in the new upcoming year.
The second day is known as Pongal day. Milk is typically boiled in a clay pot, boiling over for future prosperity to the family. Sarkarai Pongal—a sweet dish which contains boiled rice, milk, jaggery and cashew nuts—is made on this day. The newly harvested rice is boiled and newly cut sugarcane is offered to the sun god early in the morning, a gesture of thanks to the sun god for all his help during the whole crop cycle. The rice is then served to all the people in the house as a part of the ceremony.
The third day, “Mattu Pongal”, is the day for thanking the cattle and other farm animals that helped with the agriculture. The cows in villages are decorated with flowers and silk clothes, their horns are either painted with brilliant and attractive colors or covered with gold or metallic covers. The cows are allowed to roam around freely and are fed with Sweet Pongal and sugarcanes.
The fourth day is known as “Kaanum Pongal”. On this day the Tamils visit all their relatives and friends and enjoy the festive season with them, thanking them for all their help with the harvest.