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Pongal 2023: Why and How We Celebrate the Tamil Harvest Festival?

Pongal 2023: Every year, around the middle of January, the Tamil community celebrates Pongal. It is one of the biggest harvest festivals celebrated in India.

Sonali Behera
The word "Pongal," which means "to boil", originated from Tamil literature. It is a long-standing celebration in South India, especially among Tamils
The word "Pongal," which means "to boil", originated from Tamil literature. It is a long-standing celebration in South India, especially among Tamils

Pongal is a harvest celebration observed by the Tamil people. It is a time to give thanks to the Sun, Mother Nature, and all the farm animals that helped produce a bumper crop. Pongal, which is observed for four days, ushers in the Tamil month of Thai, which is seen as fortunate. Every year, it generally occurs on January 14 or 15.

The food that is prepared and consumed during this celebration is called Pongal. It consists primarily of cooked sweet rice. It comes from pongu, a Tamil phrase that means "to boil over."

What is the importance of the Pongal festival, how is it observed, and why is it celebrated? Let's explore!

When is Pongal in 2023? 

The Pongal festival will be celebrated on January 15, 2023, according to the Gregorian calendar. It lasts for four days. As a result, it will be observed from January 15 to January 18, 2023.

Meaning of Pongal

The word "Pongal," which means "to boil", originated from Tamil literature. It is a long-standing celebration in South India, especially among Tamils. It is essentially a harvest festival that is observed in Tamil Nadu for four days throughout January and February (Thai) following the harvest of crops such as rice, sugarcane, turmeric, etc.

4 days of Pongal

The four-day Pongal festival is a time for joy. The first day is known as the Bhogi festival, the second as Thai Pongal, the third as Mattu Pongal, and the fourth as Kaanum Pongal. Each day is celebrated with a distinct celebration.

Bhagi Pongal: Bhogi is the name of the first day of Pongal. It's a day when people clean houses and get rid of old possessions to symbolize a new beginning. People dress in new attire, and homes are festively adorned.

Surya Pongal: The second day, which is known as Surya Pongal, is the primary day of Pongal. The Sun God is honored on this day. Each household prepares a pot of fresh rice with milk at auspicious times, and at the entrance to their home, kolam, colourful beautiful floor designs are created. Family members joyfully yell "Pongalo Pongal" as the milk boils freely over the kettle! They would eat a variety of Pongal meals cooked after the Pongal is served to the Sun God.

Maatu Pongal: Maatu Pongal is the name of the third day of Pongal. On this day, cattle (Maatu) are honored and worshipped in remembrance of the job they perform by cultivating the soil. Cows are washed and decorated with bells, flower garlands, and multicolored beadwork. In Singapore, cows at some dairy farms owned by Indians would receive thanksgiving prayers.

Kaanum Pongal: Kaanum Pongal is the name of the fourth day of Pongal. On this day, emphasis is placed on fostering bonds throughout the community. Families come together for a lavish lunch. The senior family members are sought for their blessings by the younger family members. A day for traditional Indian folk dances like mayilattam and kolattam is also observed on this day.

History of the Pongal Festival

It is said that the "Dravidian Harvest celebration" and its origins can be found in the Sangam Age. But according to some historians, this holiday dates back to at least 2,000 years. The occasion was known as Thai Niradal.

During this festival, single females fasted and performed penance throughout the Tamil month of Margazhi to pray for the country’s agricultural success. They avoided drinking milk and other dairy items and oiling their hair all month. They strongly forbid using abrasive language. The rite of atonement includes an early morning ceremonial wash.

Why do people celebrate Pongal?

According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva once tasked Basava (Bull) with visiting Earth and requesting that people take daily baths and oil massages. However, Basava (Bull) declared that you should eat daily and take an oil bath once a month. Because of this, Lord Shiva became enraged and condemned the Basava (Bull) to remain on Earth forever, where he must plough the fields and assist humans in growing more food. People so commemorate this event with crops and livestock after harvesting.

Significance of Pongal

India is an agricultural nation, and most of its celebrations have a naturalistic theme. The Festival of Pongal is known as Uttarayan Punyakalam, which is exceedingly fortunate and has a particular meaning in Hindu mythology.

It is essentially a harvest festival or the Thanksgiving holiday since it is observed to give thanks to the Sun God and Lord Indra for assisting farmers in growing higher-yielding crops. People accept new items and discard old ones throughout the festival.

The most significant ritual of the event is the making of the traditional "Pongal" meal. Recently harvested rice is utilized, and it is boiled with milk and raw cane sugar (jaggery). On rare occasions, the sweet dish also contains extras like cardamom, raisins, split green gram, and cashew nuts. Ghee and coconut oil are further ingredients (clarified butter from cow milk). In addition to the sweet Pongal meal, some people also make salty and savory versions of it (venpongal). Women in certain communities will cook together as a communal activity by taking their cooking pots to the town center, the main plaza, next to the temple of their choosing, or even just in front of their own homes.

The meal is served in the sunshine, usually in a courtyard or porch, in homage to Surya, the Sun deity. "Has the rice boiling," is the traditional greeting on Pongal day, and family and friends are welcomed.

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