Pongal is a 4 days long festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu which falls in the months of January-February when crops like rice, sugarcane, turmeric are harvested. The term 'Pongal' in Tamil means "to boil", and this holiday in India is celebrated as a thanksgiving ceremony for the year's harvest.
Pongal, one of the important Indian holidays which showcase diversity and prosperity among people. Pongal falls around the same time as Lohri every year, which is around mid-January. The literal meaning of Pongal is “spilling over” and it had named so because of the tradition of boiling rice in a pot until it starts overflowing. Other traditions of the celebration include drawing of Kolam, swinging, and cooking of delicious Pongal.
History behind Pongal
Pongal is an ancient festival of people in South India particularly Tamils. The history of the festival can be traced back to the Sangam Age i.e. 200 B.C. To 300 A.D. Although, Pongal originated as a Dravidian Harvest festival and has a mention in Sanskrit Puranas, historians identify the festival with the Thai Un and Thai Niradal which are believed to have been celebrated during the Sangam Age.
Medians of the Sangam era observed ‘pavai Nonbu’ at the time of Thai Niradal which was a major festival during the reign of Pallavas. During the festival, young girls prayed for the rain and prosperity of the country. Throughout the month, Girls used to avoid milk and milk products. Women used to bathe early in the morning and would not oil their hair. They worshiped the idol of Goddess Katyayani, which would be carved out of wet sand. They ended their penance on the first day of the month of Thai (January-February). This penance was to bring abundant rains to flourish the paddy. These traditions and customs of ancient times gave rise to Pongal celebrations.
There are several stories related to Pongal but there are two most believed stories. The first story is about when Lord Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage, a bath every day and eat once a month. Basava on the other hand wrongly said that everyone should oil once a month and eat every day. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plow the fields and help people produce more food. Thus the association of this day with cattle.
The second most famous story is about Lord Indra and Lord Krishna. According to this story, Lord Krishna in his childhood decided to teach a lesson to Lord Indra who was getting arrogant after becoming king of all deities. Lord Krishna asked all the cowherds to stop worshiping Lord Indra. This angered Lord Indra and sent forth his clouds for thunder-storms and 3 days continuous rains. Lord Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan to save all the humans. Later, Lord Indra realized his mistake and the divine power of Krishna.
How Do Locals Celebrate Pongal in India
Pongal is a four days long festival in India, each day has its significance and traditions.
The first day of Pongal is known as Bhogi Festival. This day is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra (God of Rain). On this day people decorate their houses, purchase new vessels and burn down unwanted things.
The second day is Perum Pongal, people worship the sun (Surya) and his consorts Chaya and Samgnya. Women decorate the central part of their home with Kolam, done with rice and bordered by red clay. The Pongal dish is cooked exactly at the moment when the new month is born. This is considered to be the most important day of the festival. On Perum Pongal day, the lord is believed to have taken the form of Sarangapani and blessed the sage. Yet another legend has it that Lord Shiva performed a miracle where a stone image of an elephant ate a piece of sugarcane.
The third day is Mattu Pongal, Cows are decorated and bath with vermilion and garlands. In certain villages, Bullfights called Manji-virattu is held in the evening. In several places, birds fight is also organized. Bags of coins are tied to the sharpened horns of Bulls that are let loose on open ground. men had to subdue the bull to win the hand of a fair maiden and even Lord Krishna is believed to have defeated seven bulls before marrying Nappinnai. Unlike in the Spanish bullfights, in manji-virattu, the bull is never killed. Mattu Pongal has little significance to city folks. In most urban homes, the day is celebrated as Kannu Pongal. Special prayers are offered by women for the well-being of their brothers.
On the fourth day, birds are worshipped. Balls of cooked rice are prepared and left out for birds to eat. People also thank family and friends for their support during the harvest. This day is commonly celebrated as a fun family day out.
Advise from the Locals for Traveling to India during this Holiday
This festival is auspiciously celebrated during January with full preparations and excitement. Pongal is massively celebrated in southern parts of India.
Some of the best places advised by locals
Madurai: Madurai is also known as the heaven of temples, handicrafts, and food. There are plenty of activities to do during Pongal here. The entire town looks mesmerizing during the Pongal festival.
Thanjavur: There are several temples in Thanjavur including Shiva famous temple which is unique and breathtaking. Local celebrate Mattu Pongal which offers worships of a cow.
Pollachi: Pollachi is another beautiful place to celebrate Pongal. This town is located very close to Coimbatore. There are several activities to do here.
Coimbatore: Coimbatore celebrates Pongal the way Thanksgiving is celebrated in the western nations. People decorate their homes with kolams (rangoli), flowers and fresh wall paint. Delicious delicacies are prepared for family feasts. Restaurants also offer special Pongal meals to the discerning guests.
Tips from the Locals for Celebrating Pongal in India
Pongal is a great time to visit Tamil Nadu, Chennai, and other south Indian places. Places could be very crowded and booking a hotel could be a pain. Book connecting flights, trains or cars in advance. It is better to stick to one place and enjoy all the four days there. Try traditional food made by local vendors.