Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pongal Festival

Pongal is celebrated to mark the day of harvest which falls in the month of Thai which usually falls in the month of January. It represents celebration of "fertility and renewal" and is observed either for three days or four-days, after the end of the monsoon season and rice (paddy) crop is harvested. As the entire world economy was agricultural based, this festival was celebrated all over the world.

This day marks the transition of the Sun into Makara rasi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. So it is also known as Makara Sankranti. Traditionally, this has been one of many harvest days in India.

This day is also marks the rise of star cluster called Pleiades on the horizon. The Pleiades is known to cultures all around the world, including the Maori, Aboriginal Australians, the Persians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Maya, the Aztec, and the Sioux and Cherokee. In Tamil culture this star cluster is attributed to Lord Murugan (Lord Murugan raised by the six sisters known as the Kārthigai Penngal and thus came to be known as Kārtikeyan), in Sanskrit he is noted as Skanda.

Boghi Festival

The Pongal Festival is celebrated over four days period, the last day of the Marghazhi month and the first three days of the month of Thai. The first day (the last day of the Marghazhi month) is known as Bhogi. Bhogi festival is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, "the God of Clouds and Rains". Lord Indra is worshiped for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land.

It is the time to clean up the house and burn the rubbish. But today, the people mistakenly take this day as to destroy and burn the old things. That is not what it was meant for. The farmers who toil in the farm from morning to night would not have time to clean their house. So on this day farmers will gather together and clean up not only their houses but also the village. Cleaning up and burning of this pile of rubbish is celebrated as festival because it is done as a community project. All trashes and agricultural wastes will then be burnt in a bonfire which marks the height of the Boghi festival. The fire made of wood and cow-dung cake is also to keep warm during the last lap of the winter.

Newly harvested rice is boiled together
with milk and other  items until it boils.

Pongal Day (Surya Pongal)

On the next day of Pongal, (the first day of the Thai month), which is known as the actual Pongal Day, the farmer's wives will gather together and boil the first harvest rice with milk and offer to the Sun God to express their gratitude do the yield.

Village women cooking Pongal in a earthen ware called claypot

Besides rice and lentils, the ingredients of the sweet dish Pongal dish include cardamom, jaggery, raisins, and cashew nuts. Cooking is done in sunlight, usually in a porch or courtyard, as the dish is dedicated to the Sun God, Surya. The cooking is done in a clay pot called kollam which is decorated with coloured patterns. There are two versions of pongal, one sweet the other salted. The prepared dish is served on banana leaves. Apart from Pongal Day celebrations, cooking pongal is a traditional practice at Hindu temples during any Temple Festival in Tamil Nadu. The community will convene to cook pongal rice, partake of it and distribute it to those present.

Maattu Pongal

The second day of the Thai month is dedicated to the farm animals an known as Maattu Pongal. Though the name of the festival is specific to Tamil Nadu, in India, it is also celebrated in other southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It is for celebration of the cattle, particularly cows and bulls that play a vital role by working hard to help the farmers to raise crops on their fields

Sweetened food is served including the animals.

Kanni Pongal

Since the harvest is the time when the farmers makes their income, they organise their children's marriage during this month. Thus the month of Thai is known as auspicious month for wedding ceremonies. The last day of Pongal is used for this particular reason. On this day which is know as Kanni Pongal or the Virgins Pongal, the teenagers will have many activities together. This practice was introduced because girls usually stay in the house and not exposed to the world. During the activities, the boys and girls can get introduced. Once the family of the groom to be sees a girl to their liking they will then send a proposal group to find out more info on the girls and the marriage talk will begin.

The boys will show their strength in controlling the bulls to
impress the girls on  the 3rd day in the game of Jallikattu

This practice has been found in the history and may well be more than 1000 years old although some are of the view that the festival is older than that. Epigraphic Evidence suggests the celebration of the Puthiyeedu during the Medieval Chola empire days. It is thought that Puthiyeedudoodle meant the first harvest of the year.

Girls will show their talents in "Kolam" competition
to impress the boys on the day of Kanni Pongal.

Recently the Tamil Nadu DMK government who is known for segregating certain factions for their "Divide and Rule" political system declared that Pongal Festival as "Tamizhar Thirunaal" or Tamizhan's Festival. This declaration is absurd as this day does not occur in the beginning of the Tamil year. This day was not derived based on any mathematical or astrological calculations. As such Tamils worldwide should not consider this date as a new year.