A significat proportion of India’s population lives in rural and agricultural communities, and so this harvest festival is both relevant and popular. It usually takes place sometime in mid-January, and it usually begins around the 14th or 15th day of the month. The festival celebrates the changing of the seasons. This celebration includes the celebration of the harvests and it also notes that the monsoon season in the region is over for the year.
The word Pongal is derived from the Tamil word Ponga, which means “to boil.” The etymology of the word points to the meaning of Pongal as to mean “spillover” or “overflowing.” During this time, Indians give thanks for the overflowing harvest. This month is a traditional month to have weddings because the end of the harvest is usually associated with an abundance of food, which makes its significantly easier to throw a large, traditional wedding.
The first day of the festival is called Bhogi Pongal, and it is a festival thrown in honour of Lord Indra, the Hindu deity that is said to have given the clouds their rain. The day is marked with a large bonfire in celebration of prosperity and the end of the winter season.
Many families throw household items that are no longer useful into the bonfire as young girls dance and sing traditional songs around It. Families and villages also use this day to prepare for the second day of the festival by preparing rice, sugarcane and turmeric for their use in the rituals of the second day of the festival.
The second day of the festival is dedicated to a different god who is called Lord Surya. He is the Hindu Sun God. The day begins when an act of worship called the puja is performed. The ceremonial act requires the rice to be boiled in milk in an earth pot. This rice is then offered to Lord Surya as an offering.
The turmeric prepared the previous day is tied around the pot of rice when it is offered to Lord Surya. Other traditional offerings include sugar cane, coconut and bananas. People get into the spirit on this day by wearing traditional clothing and markings on their bodies. The day also includes the drawing of the likeness of Lord Surya on a wooden plank, otherwise known as the kolam.
The third day of the Pongal festival is called Mattu Pongal and this day is dedicated to the cows. The cattle are adorned with beads, bells, corn, and garlands of flowers and worshiped by their owners and the local villagers. They are fed and taken into the village where they are celebrated in a festive fury. The cows are then offered the Pongal that has been offered to the gods. The day continues with bull races and other festivities.
The final, fourth day of Pongal is called Kannum Pongal. Families wash a turmeric leaf and then place it on the ground and cover it with the sweet Pongal left over from the previous days. They also include sugar cane and plantains. Many women prefer to perform this ritual in the early morning before they bathe.This is also the day when sisters pray for the happiness and livelihoods of their brothers.