Introduction: The harvest festival that is celebrated with the change in the whiff of the breeze as well as the season, specifically in South India, with immense zeal and joy is known as ‘Thai Pongal’. This festival has special significance for Tamils residing in ‘Tamil Nadu’ and in the Indian Union Territory ‘Puducherry’ and Sri Lanka marking the end of the harvest season.  It signifies the paving of new chances or opportunities.

Etymology: The word ‘Thai’ refers to the tenth month according to the Tamil calendar and ‘Pongal’ stands for festivity. The word ‘Pongal’ is also a name of special dish made up of boiled sweet rice that is eaten up with lentils on this festive eve.

Observed in varied states of India & abroad: Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Kerala, Bihar, Goa, Karnataka, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Assam along with the neighbouring country ‘Nepal’.

Festive eve: This eve, as being a harvest festival, is celebrated on the first day of the tenth month as per mention in ‘Tamil calendar’.

Significance: The literal meaning of ‘Pongal’ gives ‘boiling’ and therefore, this festival pertains to the warmth of the sun that ascends to boiling level while the sun moves northward towards the equinox. This festival is correlated with another winter harvest festival celebrated with pomp and show called ‘Makar Sankranthi’ in all over India. During this span, the sun spins & enters into the 10th house of the Indian Zodiac (Makar Sankranthi) while heading to the north (Uttarayana) from the southernmost level.

Rituals: This festival is celebrated specially for thanking the Sun god in return of blessing rich harvest. People offer the very first share of grain to the Sun and thus, this practice is regarded as ‘Surya Mangalyam’.

The dish ‘Pongal’ (sweet dish), made up of cardamom, raisins, moong dal & cashew nuts prepared in Kollam, is served to god Sun and then, is consumed by all. It is cooked during day in courtyard since it is to be dedicated to the Sun god.

People adorn their houses with the leaves of banana and mango and the floor sparkles with the magnificent patterns drafted and coloured using rice flour.

History:  The history of this harvest festive eve dates back around 1000 year as per evidence of scripted inscription (epigraph). During Medieval era when Chola Empire flourished, this eve used to be commemorated as the ‘Puthiyeedu’ that connotes the first harvest of the year.

Various ways of celebration:

  • Bhogi: The preceding day of Pongal is known as ‘Bhogi’ during which people throw the discarded objects and burn them to the ashes in bonfire in the morning, like Holika.  Houses are swept and cattle, like oxen and buffaloes, are painted with colours to celebrate it in grand way by the people of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Bhogi Pallu is a ceremony of collecting harvested flowers and fruits as a ‘mixture’. Money is also placed in it. Then, this mixture is poured over kids who collect the money and sweet fruits afterwards.

  • Thai Pongal: The very first day of the month ‘Thai’ is celebrated by preparing a sweet dish with rice, milk and jaggery in a new clay pot over which sugar, ghee, cashew nuts and raisins are topped up. The sanggu (a conch) is blown with the first boil in the dish since watching the boiling milk symbolizes good luck and prosperity. Then, gratitude is paid to

  • Maatu Pongal: Since cattle play a valuable role in the routine life of the farmers specifically. Thus, Tamilians believe their cattle to be their ‘wealth’.  The following day of ‘Pongal’ is celebrated as Maatu Pongal by felicitating them. Some adventurous games, such as Jallikkattu or bull-taming, are played to display affection and recognition to the cattle which look striking in their colourful form, garland around their neck and Kumkum on their forehead. They are served Venn pongal, jaggery, honey, banana and other fruits.

Birds are served coloured rice, cooked vegetables, banana and sweet pongal on a ginger or turmeric leaf, especially to crows, by the young females under Kanu Pidi tradition for getting their brothers blessed with goodness.  Women pray to god for prosperity and good relation to bloom.

  • Kaanum Pongal: On this day of the festival, brothers pay tribute to their sisters who are married by gifting them with love. Get-togethers are arranged by people as family-gathering. People flock at beachside & theme parks to spend a day with family. There is a customary tradition of chewing sugar-cane and decorating houses using kolam. This eve marks the end of the festival.