| This three-day harvest festival is celebrated every year in
Magha, from the 13th to the 15th of January. The word 'pongal' refers to the dish
of sweet rice prepared on this occasion. The festival is celebrated widely in
Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The time of the festival is of great
importance to all Hindus, as it corresponds to the solar equinox when the days
begin to lengthen and the nights begin to wane. According to Hindu mythology,
this is when the day of the gods begins, after a six-month long night. The festival
is spread over three days and is the most important and most fervently celebrated
harvest festival of south India.
special puja is performed on the first day of Pongal before the cutting of the
paddy. Farmers worship the sun and the earth by anointing their ploughs and sickles
with sandalwood paste. It is with these consecrated tools that the newly harvested
rice is cut. The first day is called Pongal Podigai or Bhogi Pongal and is a day
of family feasting and enjoyment. Since the festival celebrates the harvest of
the paddy crop, the newly harvested rice is first cooked on this day. The rice
grains, along with sesame seeds, jaggery, chickpeas, groundnuts and dried coconut,
are put into an earthen pot filled with milk. This is boiled until some of the
milk spills over, and the preparation is called 'Pongal'. It is generally cooked
at an auspicious hour, recommended by the priest, in the courtyard of the house.
A portion of the cooked rice is offered to Ganesha, and the family, neighbors
and friends share the rest as consecrated food. As people greet each other, they
ask paal pongitaor (has the milk boiled over).
Another ritual observed on this day is called Bhogi Mantalu, when useless household
articles are thrown into a fire made of wood and cow dung cakes. Girls dance around
the bonfire, singing songs in praise of the gods, the spring and the harvest.
In Andhra Pradesh, in the morning the girls burn their old clothes and wear new
ones after an oil massage and bath. Then follows Pongal Panai, a ritual in which
the new earthenware pots are painted and decorated with turmeric, flowers and
The second day is known as Surya Pongal, the day for the worship of Surya, and
the rice cooked in milk and jaggery is offered him. When the food is being cooked
and when it boils over, people shout pongalo pongal loudly and many times to rejoice.
On this festive day, a newly married couple, symbolizing freshness and joy, is
presented with new clothes by the bride's parents. The servants of the house are
also given new clothes to wear. Bathing in the sacred rivers during Pongal is
believed to be extremely beneficial. Hence, devotees flock to Tanjavur in Tamil
Nadu to bathe in the waters of the Kaveri, and to Tirunelveli, also in Tamil Nadu
to bathe in the river Tamrapani. Bathing in the sea at Vedanaranyam in Tamil Nadu
is also considered auspicious.
The third day is known as Mattu Pongal or Gopuja, the day of Pongal for cows.
It is marked by cattle worship. In earlier times, cattle formed the chief asset
of an agriculturalist and it was only proper that their services were recognized
and celebrated on this day. The cattle are given a ceremonial bath in the morning;
their horns are cleaned, polished and painted, and then decorated with flowers.
They are then given Pongal to eat. Arati is performed on them, so as to ward off
the evil eye. According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go
to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and
to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat
daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed
Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the
fields and help people produce more food. Thus, cattle are associated with this
day. A festival called Jallikathu is held in Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur,
all in Tamil Nadu, on this day. Bundles of money are tied to the horns of ferocious
bulls, which the villagers try to retrieve. Everyone joins in the community meal,
at which the food is made of the freshly harvested grain. This day is named and
celebrated as Tamilian Tirunal in a fitting manner throughout Tamil Nadu. Sisters
for the welfare of their brothers also celebrate Muttu Pongal, also called Kanu