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Pongal – The Festival Celebrating Prosperity

India is a land whose primary occupation is agriculture. Changes in season thus play a very important role for Indian farmers. Their lifestyles and celebrations are thus exclusively linked to the seasonal landmarks in an year. There are many Indian festivals which are in tune with a farmers lifestyle and also with the seasonal variations in an year. Pongal, the harvest festival of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is one of them.

When is Pongal Celebrated?

This festival marks the beginning of the end of winter season and corresponds to the time when the sun is moving towards Uttarayanam (north) from Dakshinayanam (south). The period is referred to as Uttarayan Punyakalam and is considered auspicious. As per the Tamil calender, Pongal is celebrated four days from the last day of the month of Margazhi (December — January) to the third day of the month Thai (January — February). Thus, according to the Gregorian calender, Pongal is celebrated from 12 to 15 January of which Pongal day or the first day of Thai falls on 14 January.

Common Traditions and Customs

Some of the rituals which are a must on Pongal are cleaning the house and wearing new clothes. The young girls and women wear a lehanga and half sari respectively whereas the men are attired in lungi and angavastram on this occasion. During the Pongal season, people eat sugar canes and decorate the houses with kolam which is made using rice paste. Kolams are generally made of white colour but one may also come across kolams made up of different colours.

Another popular custom is exchanging gifts on Pongal. In villages, farm labourers get ‘Pongal Padi' or ‘Pongal Parisu’ as Pongal Gifts. This tradition has now moved on to other occupations as well, with employers giving gifts to their employees on the occasion of Pongal. This is an opportunity to present gifts to those among your family and friends as well. Some popular yet appropriate gift ideas on Pongal include Lord sun sculptures (on Surya Pongal), decoratives (on Bhogi Pongal), new kitchen vessels, wooden handicrafts and household goods.

The Festivities

Pongal is a festival that goes on for four days. The first day of festivities is known as the Bogi Pongal, wherein people worship the sun god and earth. The dish Pongal is made by boiling rice with milk. In fact the first paddy that is harvested is used to make Pongal. The second day is Surya Pongal or Perum Pongal. It is the most important day and people worship Surya, the Sun God and his consorts, Chaya and Samgnya. Old articles are thrown in the fire and people have an oil massage and wear new clothes on this day. On the third day of the festival, known as Mattu Pongal, the farm animals like cattles are worshipped. Cattles are bathed and dressed beautifully and served Pongal. The fourth day is Thiruvalluvar day or Kaanum Pongal. People visit family, friends and relatives, women of the house perform puja for the prosperity of their brothers. Many people leave cooked rice on banana leaves for birds on this day.

The Tamil Festival

On this occasion farmers pay their respects to the rain, sun and the farm animals, all of which are essentials in any harvest. Also, since paddy and other crops depend on the availability of good rain and Tamil Nadu does not have many perennial water sources, rain and sun gods are invoked during this auspicious occasion. Pongal is also known as "Tamizhar Thirunal" (meaning "the festival of Tamils"). "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum" which means that "birth of the Thai month will pave way for new opportunities" is a common saying in reference to Pongal.