Pongal 2024: All You Need to Know About Pongal

A good harvest depends on many things, like sunlight and rainfall. For farmers, these two things can make or mar their fortunes. So it’s little wonder that they have festivals like Pongal, which give thanks to these natural forces for a bountiful harvest. Such harvest festivals are celebrated in many parts of the world.


The Pongal festival is a festival of Tamils. It is quite ancient in origin. Pongal also marks the beginning of Thai(Tamil month) and the Sun’s entry into the sign of Makara (Capricorn) and its Uttarayana period (when it journeys northward). This auspicious period is the dawn time for the gods.

Pongal is a four-day celebration marked by different rituals for each day. The four days are Bhogi Pongal, Thai/Surya Pongal, Mattu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal.


Bhogi Pongal


Bhogi Pongal is dedicated to Indra, the god of rain and clouds. Rains make it possible to have a good harvest, so people worship the rain god.


People get rid of their old things at home. They clean their houses and whitewash them. Marigold flowers, mango leaves, and other things are used to decorate them.


Women draw floral rangolis or 'kolams' with freshly harvested rice flour paste, and women make red markings on them. They also add pumpkin flowers to these designs. Fresh cow dung cakes are kept within these designs. Earthen lamps are lit over them, as well. The women cook food with freshly harvested rice, sugarcane, and turmeric.


Farmers worship their tools and smear kumkum and sandalwood paste on them. They also make offerings to Surya (Sun God) and Mother Earth before the first paddy is cut.


Bhogi Mantalu is a ritual wherein bonfires are lit with cow dung cakes and wood to burn old items and clothes. All agricultural and household waste go into the fire. Pongal Panai is another ritual. In this ritual, people paint new earthen pots and decorate them with flowers and mango leaves. The horns of buffaloes are also painted and decorated by the local people.


Bhogi pallu is keeping freshly harvested rice and fruits with money. It is distributed among children.


Thai/Surya Pongal


This is the main day of the festival. The day marks the Sun’s first day in Uttarayana. Women rise early, bathe, and wear new clothes. They draw fresh Kolams at the entrance of the house and, at an auspicious time, cook Pongal, a dish of freshly harvested rice, along with milk and jaggery in a pot in their front yard. When the rice boils and overflows, everyone shouts, ‘Pongalo Pongal’. It is then offered to the Sun god along with coconut, sugarcane, and bananas. It is also offered to cattle and birds, after which the people consume it.


Pongal means ‘to boil and overflow’. This refers to the making of the Pongal dish, which is complete when the mix boils and overflows from the clay pot.


Mattu Pongal


On this day, people worship cattle, mainly cows, which are symbols of fertility and prosperity. They also help the farmer in agriculture and provide milk. So, people worship them with gratitude and devotion. People decorate their cows with bells, flower garlands, etc., and perform aarti to honor them.


Kaanum Pongal


This is the last day of the festival. On this day, women pray for the well-being of their family and their brothers. They perform Aarti and sprinkle holy water in the house and outside. It is also a day to go for picnics with family and friends.


Significance of Pongal


The significance of Pongal is that the Sun has completed its southward movement or Dakshinayana and is beginning Uttarayana. During the former, the Sun is weak as it is winter, and there is not much sunlight. It is also the nighttime of the gods, when the gods are asleep and not available to shower blessings on humans. During Uttarayana, the Sun gradually regains its powers. It marks the daytime of the gods and is, therefore, an auspicious time. Pongal symbolizes the advent of spring and summer when the weather becomes warmer. So, Pongal is a time for new beginnings.


Pongal is also a thanksgiving festival, when we express our gratitude to Nature and the gods for their gifts to us.


Legends behind Pongal


There are two legends related to Pongal.


In one story, Shiva once asked his bull, Basava, to go to Earth and teach humans how to lead their lives. Shiva’s message was, “Tell the humans to eat once a month and to have an oil bath daily”. But Basava said the opposite. He told humans to eat daily and take an oil bath once a month. Angry over his blunder, Shiva banished Basava and told him to live on Earth forever. He was given the task of plowing the fields to help humans make more food. For this reason, people worship cattle on Maattu Pongal.


Another story says that Krishna once wanted to humble Indra, the rain god, who had become very vain and arrogant. He told the people of Gokul to stop worshipping Indra and worship Mt. Govardhan instead, as it was the latter which brought rains. A furious Indra caused 3 days of incessant rain and thunderstorms. But Krishna lifted the Govardhan mountain on his finger and held it up like an umbrella to protect the villagers and their livestock from the rain. Finally, Indra came to his senses and apologized to Krishna.


What Do People Eat During Pongal?


People make a dish called Pongal and consume it during the festival. It is made by boiling rice with milk in a clay pot. There are two kinds of Pongal. One is Chakkarai Pongal. Sugar or jaggery is also used to make the dish sweet. Another way is to boil rice with green gram dal and season it with ghee, pepper, cumin, and ginger. This is eaten with sambar and chutney. This is a savory version called Venn Pongal, and it is a much-loved breakfast dish in Tamilnadu.


Pongal and Astrology


According to astrology, Pongal is when the Sun’s power increases after the end of the Winter solstice. This happens when it enters Makara or Capricorn, the 10th sign of the zodiac. It usually occurs on January 14-15. Though the Winter solstice now occurs almost a month earlier, on December 21, Vedic astrology is based on Nakshatras (stars/constellations) and not the Sun, which is the case in western astrology, so the date remains the same always.


Pongal is also celebrated as Makara Sankranti, Lohri, and Kicheri in other parts of India.


Pongal 2024 is from January 15 – January 18. 

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