Monday, April 7, 2014

Pongal, the Joyous Harvest Festival

Pongal which is also known as Thai Pongal is celebrated by Tamils in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is one of the most significant festivals of Tamil celebrated at the end of the harvest season. This festival is celebrated annually during the month of January.  Pongal is considered as the most auspicious one and mark it as the beginning of sun’s movement towards the zodiac Capricorn. Other than Tamil Nadu, this auspicious festival is celebrated in the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry and Sri Lanka.

The history of this festival is over 1,000 years old although some say that the festival is much older than that. Still, the history of this festival can be marked from the Sangam Age, from 200 B.C. to 300 A.D. Pongal actually initiated as the 'Dravidian Harvest Festival'. During that period, young girls used to worship God for prosperity and rain and they avoided taking milk and milk products during the festival. They also used to create idol of Goddess Katyani out of wet sand and worship it. Though there are many legends associated with this festival, one of the legends say that once Lord Shiva told his bull 'Basava' to visit the earth and meet the human beings living on it. Lord Shiva had also asked his bull to tell the human beings to take oil massage and bath daily like they eat food every day. On the way to the earth the bull forgot the message and told the human beings to eat daily and to take oil massage and bath once in a month. When Lord Shiva came to know about this, he became angry with Basava and punished him to live on the earth itself and asked help the human beings by ploughing their fields to harvest more grain. Thus, traditions and rituals of ancient period started to be celebrated as Pongal.

Celebrations and Rituals
The festival is celebrated with lot of vigor and joy in the state of Tamil Nadu. Almost every inhabitants living at this place actively participates in its preparations. The celebration of Pongal festival initiates from 13th January and lasts till four days. The festival initiates with 'Bhogi' and concludes with 'Kannum’. The festival is mainly of great significance for the farmers. On the first of the festival, people start with the celebration which is known as 'Bhogi' that includes cleaning of their houses and preparing attractive Kolam at the entrance of their houses.  Late in the evening of the first day, they worship Lord Indra and burn the unwanted things of their houses in a bonfire. After which they sing and dance happily around the born fire. According to the people who celebrate Pongal, this is the sign of the end of old things and beginning of new and good things.

The second day of the festival is called ‘Sury Pongal’ as it is dedicated to Sun. On this day, people worship Sun in the morning and prepare a sweet dish made of new rice, milk and jiggery. This sweet dish is known as 'Sakkarai Pongal'. It is prepared in an earthen pot and when it gets cooked; people will say 'Pongalo Pongal'. The third day of the festival is called 'Mattu Pongal'. On the third day people wash their cattle's like cows and bulls and decorate them beautifully by painting their horns with attractive colors and  by hanging bells around their neck. After completing the decoration of the cattle, they worship them and thank them in helping them in harvesting and ploughing. The last or the fourth day of Pongal is 'Kannum Pongal'. On this day people enjoy to their fullest content. During this day people meet their relatives and friends and exchange gifts, wishing each other 'Happy Pongal'. The entire festival is celebrated with lot of delight.