Pongal is a four-days long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India. It falls in the Tamil month of Thai (the tenth month of the Tamil calendar) the January-February season, that marks the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere. This period is referred to as Uttarayanam and is considered auspicious. Pongal also coincides with the various harvest festivals celebrated across India with different names and traditions unique to each region, like Makar Sankranti, Lohri, Bhogi, Bhogali Bihu, all mark the shift in the season and earth's transition into the harvest season.
The term 'Pongal' is derived from the word ‘ponga’, in Tamil it means "to boil", and therefore Pongal means 'spillover' or something that is 'overflowing'. This festival is celebrated as a thanksgiving ceremony for the year's harvest, when crops like rice, sugarcane, turmeric etc. are harvested. Pongal also happens to be the name of a dish consumed during this festive time, which is sweetened rice boiled with lentils
First Day of Pongal:
Bhogi, is celebrated on the last day of the month of Margazhi. On this day, people decorate their homes. New vessels are bought and clean their homes and surroundings. People offer their prayers by thanking Indra for this blessings and ask for a good year again. People also light up a bonfire and throw the items they want to discard in it. In the evening, women sing and dance around the bonfire which helps keep warm as well as the night gets chilly.
Second Day of Pongal:
The second day is Perum Pongal, is the most important. On this day people worship the Sun God. People decorate their homes with mango leaves and strings of flowers and beautiful kolams (drawings made with rice flour and bordered with red clay). The Pongal payasam (made of jaggery, rice and milk, in a traditional mud pot) is cooked in the early morning during the sunrise, exactly at the moment when the new month is born and is offered to the Sun God along with pieces of sugarcanes. The food is shared with relatives and neighbors after being offered to the Sun God.
Third Day of Pongal:
The third day is Mattu Pongal, celebrated to glorify cattle that help farmers in a myriad ways. On this day, the cows are bathed and decorated with vermilion and garlands and fed. The cows are adorned with bells and flowers around their neck. Women then perform aarti to get rid of any evil eye and seek the animal’s blessings.
Last Day of Pongal:
The last day is Kaanum Pongal, celebrations end with a pooja right outside the home. Women wake up in the morning and before bathing, they place a washed turmeric leaf on the ground. Different kinds of rice are placed on it along with sugarcane sticks, betel nuts and more. Special prayers are offered by women for the well-being of their brothers. This marks the end of the harvest festival celebration in Tamil Nadu. It is also time for some traditional dances such as kummi and kolattam.
Legends Behind Pongal
The first day of the festival Bhogi Pongal has an association with legend of Lord Indra (the God of clouds and rains) and Lord Krishna. As per the Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna on the day of Bhogi (the first day of Pongal), raised mountain (Govardhan) on his little finger in order to save people and cattle from the anger of rain god Indra. Since then, Krishna allowed to let the Bhogi celebrations continue in honor of Indra. Thus, the day gave the origin to the Pongal celebration. The festival got another name of Indran from this legendary story.
Another legend associated with the festival is Lord Shiva. The third day of Pongal known as Mattu Pongal involves Lord Shiva and his mount, Nandi (Basava), the bull. According to the legend, Lord Shiva once asked his bull to go to the Earth and deliver his message to the people to have oil massage and bath daily and to eat food once a month. But mistakenly, Nandi announced to have oil massage and bath once a month and to eat food daily. This made Lord Shiva angry and sent Nandi on earth in order to help people in harvesting. Henceforth, Pongal became a well-known harvest festival.