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Pongal: A Way of Thanking God for Overwhelming Harvest of Crops

India is an agro based country and a huge chunk of the population still depend on agriculture for taking up their livelihood. According to surveys around 70% of the Indian population resides in rural areas and this is the reason we see that most of the Hindu festivals are in some or the other way related to agricultural activities. And, Pongal is one of those festivals which are celebrated by the Hindu community in India particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu. The festival is celebrated in the month of January to celebrate harvesting of crops and for showing gratitude to the Sun, the Earth and the cattle for helping through the process of harvest.

About Pongal!

Pongal is a Hindu festival that is celebrated mostly in the Southern part of India and it lasts for a period of three days. The festival is observed during winter solstice when the Sun which has reached the Southern most part gets back to the North and comes again into the Capricorn sign that happens generally on 14th of January.

Few preceding days of Pongal are considered inauspicious while some of the following days of Pongal are considered really auspicious when people get into any new venture. Name “Pongal” has come from Tamil word which means “to boil”. On this day, rice is first boiled in milk and then it is offered to God as a means of showing gratitude. After that, the boiled rice is offered to cow and then to all the members of the family. On the day of Pongal, cows are beautifully embellished, garlanded with fruits and flowers and are freed to gaze around happily.

Denoting the Cycle of Season

The Pongal festival is also associated with the annual seasonal cycle and it is also celebrated to denote the going back of the Southeast Monson in South India. Pongal is a way of bidding adieu to the old season and giving warm welcome to a fresh and new one.

Regional Variations in Celebration of Pongal

Pongal is celebrated in different parts of the country with different names. It is celebrated in the North Eastern State of Assam with the name ‘Bhogali Bihu’, in Punjab it is called as Lohri, in Andhra Pradesh the festivals is celebrated with the name of Bhogi, while in rest parts of the country including Maharashtra, UP, Bihar and Bengal the festival is known as Makar Sankranti.

During the celebration of Bihu in Assam, people worship the God of fire Agni in the early morning which is then followed by celebration and feast with friends and family. While in Bengal, the celebration of Makar Sankranti involves the tradition of preparing ‘Pittha’ or the rice sweet and also ‘Ganga Sagar Mela’ is organized at the Ganga Sagar beach. The people of Punjab celebrate it with the name Lohri when people gather around bonfire, eat and exchange greetings with friends and families. In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the festivals is known with the name Bhogi and on this day people of the state puts their collection of dolls on display.

Here is the description of how the four day festival is celebrated…..

Day 1

Bhogi Pongal

This day is celebrated with family and carrying out the domestic activities. The Bhogi Pongal day is celebrated in the honor of the deity “Indra”, who is believed to be the provider of rain and the ruler of the clouds. On this day all the old items in the house are set on fire in the surge to start life all over again.

Day 2

Surya Pongal

The second day of the Pongal festival is celebrated in the honor of Lord Sun and jaggery and boiled milk is offered in his honor. According to traditions, a large image of Lord Sun is drawn on a plank laced on to the ground and also beautiful Kolam designs are drawn around the plank.

Day 3

Mattu Pongal

This day is dedicated to showing gratitude to Mattu or cattle that is believed to give milk and pull the plow and helps with a good harvesting season. Cattle are taken for a satisfying bath, they are decorated with metal caps and are painted, their horns are painted beautifully and also beautiful garlands decorate their neck. The pongal food is then offered to the cattle. At the end, they are taken out for bullfighting called Jallikattu.

Day 4

Kanya Pongal

This is the last day of Pongal and on this day birds are worshipped! On this day, the ladies of the house make colorful balls of rice and they put them in open so that birds can eat. Also, on this day, sisters pray for good life and the well being of their brothers.

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