Pongal: Harvest festival in south India

Pongal
Harvest Festival in South India

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An image of the pot containing milk boiling over at the Pongal Harvest Festival in Tamil Nadu, INDIA

Pongal Harvest Festival in South India

Pongal Harvest Festival, Tamil Nadu | January 15 – January 18

January is always a special month as it ushers in a new and exciting year, full of hope for the morrow. It is all the more special for the hospitable people of Tamil Nadu, who are celebrating Pongal, their harvest festival.

The four-day festival honoring the Sun God symbolizes the Sun’s ascent towards the north, which is termed Uttarayan in local parlance. This year, Pongal is being celebrated between January 15 and January 18, both days included. The four days of Pongal in Tamil Nadu are called Bhogi PongalThai PongalMattu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal, in that order.

On the first day of Pongal – Bhogi Pongal – people buy new clothes and items to replace their existing possessions. The second day of Pongal, called Thai Pongal, marks the beginning of the Tamil month of Thai according to the Tamil calendar. The Sun God, or Surya, is worshipped on this day. This has led to Thai Pongal, the second day of the Pongal festival, also being referred to as Surya Pongal. Kolams, which are decorative patterns drawn at the entrance to houses, can also be found across the state of Tamil Nadu.

Maatu Pongal, the third day of the joyous festival, is called so because maatu or cattle is worshipped on this day. The horns of cattle are polished to make them look more beautiful, and they are also adorned with flower garlands around their necks. It is customary to tie bells around the necks of cattle, and in some cases, the bells may be replaced by beads. It is also possible to have a mixture of both.

The fourth day of the Pongal festival – Kaanum Pongal – is when families get together and have a meal together. It is on this day that Mayilattam (peacock dance) and Kolattam, a traditional folk dance of the region, are performed.

Jallikkattu or Taming of the Bull ceremony held during the Pongal Harvest Festival in Tamil Nadu, INDIA

The Pongal festivities also include Jallikattu, a game in which people try to tame a wild bull. They also try to climb up the Vazhukku Maram, which is a greasy pole. Mallar Kambam, another event, features a combination of yoga and gymnastics. In Uri Adithal (also called Uriyadi), people try to smash a pot that hangs well above the ground with the help of a long stick while simultaneously being blindfolded. Some play Kabbadi, a team sport that is common across the country.

It is not uncommon to see Pongal Mela or fairs where sarees (traditional Indian clothing for women), ethnic jewelry, handicrafts and pottery are displayed and sold.

Pongal gets its name from the Tamil word Pongu, which means ‘to boil over’. New rice, milk, jaggery, and cardamom are added to a pot to make a sweet dish during the festival of Pongal. As the milk overflows upon reaching its boiling point, people shout “Pongalo Pongal” – this symbolizes prosperity and abundance.

Pongal is celebrated not only in Tamil Nadu, but also by Tamilians (speakers of Tamil) across India as well as in other countries.

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