The recipients of these thanks are farm animals including the cow, ox and the buffalo. Thus farmers thank the sun god and the farm animals for energizing them and helping them to produce rice plentifully. This is probably the merriest and the most popular Hindu festival celebrated to announce the approach of a plentiful harvest.
“Pongal O’Pongal”– We are getting exactly what we expected
The rituals of this family festival commences with the boiling of a pot of rice at sunrise at the front doorstep of the house. All the members of the family gather round the pot of rice. All of them enjoy the occasion, wishing one another with the delightful cry “Pongal O’Pongal” we are getting exactly what we expect. It is boiling, it is boiling. “More than the translation, the feeling behind these words is that the universe, god and mother earth offer us a rich and abundant harvest, so that it overflows our requirements and our lives will be full of abundance in many ways for the years to come! The rice is cooked and prepared as a dish called Pongal, which is rice with dhal and sugar. The Pongal variety is called “Ven pongal, "Ven" means white. Another variety is also prepared with dhal and jaggery (sweet) called chakrai Pongal. “Chakrai means sweet. To accompany the Ven pongal people eat brinjal (egg plant) sambar (stew), vadai, idli and spicy accompaniments.
Legends connected with Thai Pongal
Pongal has many legends. An interesting story related says that Lord Shiva commanded his bull, Nandi to go to the earth and tell his devotees to have an oil bath daily and to have food twice a week. However, Nandi got it all mixed up and requested the people to eat daily and bathe twice a week. Lord Shiva was annoyed and said, “Now that people need to eat more, you stay on earth and help them plough the fields more!
Thai Pongal- a four day festival
Pongal is a three to four day festival. A number of parties contribute in making the crop to be abundant. The sun provides energy in the process of food production and sunlight is necessary for plants to grow. Sun alone is not sufficient. There should be rain to provide water which is a must in agriculture. Farm animals help in tilling and preparing the land for agriculture and farmer is one who makes use of all these to make the harvest successful.
The first day of the festival, which falls on the last day of the Tamil month, Margazhi, is called Bhogi. Bhogi is “dedicated to the god Indra (Bhogi). He is the god of clouds and rain, which make the crops grow. The first day “Bhogi Pongal” is a day for the family. On this day all the people clean their homes from top to bottom and collect all unwanted goods. In the evening people light bonfires and burn whatever that can be burnt. Homes are washed, decorated, doorways painted with vermillion and sandal wood paste with colourful garlands of leaves and flowers decorating the home exteriors. This day “Bhogi” the Rain God is worshipped.
The second day is the Suriya Pongal day on which offerings are made to the sun god and the rain god for making the lives of family members prosperous. In fact this is the festival proper where certain customs are followed expressing joy and happiness in anticipation of a new life for every one blessed with plentiful harvests and healthy lives. The ritual festivities begin early in the morning. Every member in the family gets up early in time for paraticipating in the festival. They bathe well and dress well and gather at the front step of the house or in the front garden (mutt ram) . Elders take part in cooking the Pongal including rice, dhal, juggery or chakkral (brown sugar) or Kalkandu (sugar candy) and the other members of the family assist in various ways. A flat square pitch is made and decorated gracefully with Kolam drawings or designs and it is exposed to direct sunlight. This is done as offerings to the sun. A special fire place is prepared using three bricks or three rubbles. Firewood supplied earlier is used to set fire at the auspicious moment. The cooking ceremony begins by placing a pot with water on the hearth.
Preparation of the Pongal meal
A senior member of the family, mother, grandmother or the father conducts the cooking. The other members of the family assist him or her. Those who cannot assist watch the event with interest. When the water is boiled sufficiently they put rice into the pot. It is usual for a senior member to put three handfuls of rice into the pot. This is a ceremonial event. Those who can afford prepare special dishes. In addition to cow’s milk or coconut milk rice dhal, jaggery or chakkaral or Kalkandu they add roasted green gram (payuru) raisins, cashew nuts and some pods of cardamom. When the meal is ready family members lay plantain leaves on the floor and they put the pudding on the banana leaves. Before taking the meal they pray for some time and thank the sun- the nature spirit.
Kolams are designs drawn in front yards of houses with rice flour paste. Presumably the idea is to provide eats for ants and insects so that thy too would bless the family members.At the centre is a lump of cow dung, holding a five-petal pumpkin flower -symbol of fertility. These designs are decorated to purify the place. After purifying the place, god is invited to accept the puja and bless the inmates.
The third day is the Pongal for farm animals. Farmers are well aware of the fact that the prosperity in the field of agriculture depends largely on the assistance provided by farm animals including the cow which gives milk, the ox and buffalo which help the farmer to till the land. These animals also provide fertilizer for the farm land. Hence the farm animal is an assistant, a friend and a close associate of the farmer. On the Mattu Pongal day domestic cattle are bathed, anointed and fed to their heart’s content. They are adorned with garlands of freshly picked flowers around their necks.
Unity and co-operation
Thai Pongal is also an occasion for farmers to participate in communal work. In addition to the assistance provided by the sun- the natural spirit and farm animals ,farmers get together in communal work for their common benefit. In the past they had participated in public welfare work in constructing agricultural wells, reservoirs, bunds etc. According to a legend Lord Shiva himself had participated in certain public utility work. According to the legend it was a drought season. On the orders of the ruler everyone had to work in the construction of a bund. A certain woman who could not do the work assigned to her offered to provide Pittu to anyone who would do her part of the work. No one was prepared to work for her in exchange of Pittu. Ultimately someone came and agreed to work for the woman. However, the work was not done properly and the ruler issued orders to punish him by whipping. When everyone on earth suffered the whipping it was discovered that Lord Shiva himself had come to work on earth. Everyone on earth suffered the whipping and Lord Shiva was among them. Presumably Lord Shiva’s objective had been to emphasize the need to participate in public utility work.
Kollattam –the fascinating dance
A fascinating folk dance performed by the young women and teenage girls on Thai Pongal and Mattu Pongal days in what is known as “Kollattam” or “Lee Keliya” in Sinhalese. In this short, hardened and thin clubs of a sort are used. A bevy of girls wielding the sticks strike those held in one another’s hands in graceful and titillating dances to the accompaniment of folk music. Thai Pongal is also an occasion for family reunion and a chance to get together. Old animosities and rivalries are to be forgotten. Hostilities are healed and reconciliation is affected. It is a festival of freedom, peace, unity, and compassion crystallized in the last hymn on unity in the Indian spiritual text- Rig Veda. Let us resolve on his occasion of Thai Pongal to defeat all forces endangering disunity and disharmony to march towards unity and prosperity. Let us resolve on the occasion of Thai Pongal to defeat all forces engendering disunity and disharmony to march towards unity and prosperity.