We live in a land where we have numerous festivals, some celebrated across the country and some celebrated in particular regions, but nevertheless each celebrated with similar harmony. Pongal is a very popular festival in the Southern region, and is celebrated just after Lohri.
What is Pongal?
Pongal is a thanks-giving festival celebrated throughout Southern India. The word ‘Pongal Is derived from Tamil literature and its literal meaning is ‘to boil’. Pongal is also the name of a rice based dish, which is prepared for this festival. It basically is a harvest festival and the only festival to follow the solar calendar. This festival is celebrated on the 14th of January every year. Pongal marks the initiation of the sun's movement towards the North for a six month period. It is considered very auspicious as opposed to the Southern movement of the sun. It signifies the event when the sun enters the zodiac sign Capricorn (Makar) and thus the name Makar Sankranti.
History of Pongal
Pongal is an ancient festival, a festival whose presence can be traced back to 200B.C to 300A.D i.e the Sangam Age. Pongal was a festival celebrated during the Dravadian era and is mentioned in the Sanskrit Puranas. Still some historians choose to identify it with the festivals celebrated in the Sangam age. According to some historians Pongal was celebrated as Thai Niradal in the Sangam age. It is also believed that during this period, unmarried girls prayed for the agricultural prosperity of the country, and for this purpose they also observed penance. These young unmarried girls would also perform fasting and believed that it would bring a healthy crop, abundant wealth and prosperity to the country for the year ahead.
Legends of Pongal
Festivals in India always have some legends, importance, myths attached to them. While there are many attached to Pongal as well, the following two legends are the most famous ones.
According to this legend, Lord Shiva once asked his bull, Basava to go down to the earth and ask the people to eat once a month, have an oil massage and bath everyday. Although unintentionally, Basava accidentally announced that everyone should have an oil bath once a day and eat everyday. Lord Shiva’s wrath was such that he banished Basava to live on the earth forever. Here on earth, he would be required to help the people produce more food and thus help them. This might be the reason for the association of cattle to this day.
This legend is about Lord Krishna and Lord Indra. The legend says that Lord Krishna in his childhood decided to teach a lesson to Lord Indra, who had become arrogant after becoming the king of all deities. Lord Krishna had angered Lord Indra by asking all the cowherders to stop worshipping Lord Indra. He then sent his clouds of devastation to cause thunderstorms and floods. Lord Krishna then lifted the Mount Govardhan, providing shelter to all beings and showed Lord Indra his divinity. After this Lord Indra’s false pride was shattered and he then apologized to Lord Krishna.
How is Pongal celebrated?
According to Hindu mythology and astrology this festival marks up a very auspicious occasion, as the day when God begins, after a six month long night. The celebration for this festival is spread across three days.The first day is marked by a special puja, performed by cutting on the paddy. The farmers worship the sun and the earth by smearing their ploughs and sickles with sandalwood paste.
Each of the three days has a different festivity. The first day is a day to be with your family and is known as Bhogi Pongal . The second day is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God as in known as Surya Pongal . On this day boiled milk with jaggery is offered to the Sun God. The third day, Mattu Pongal is the day for worship of cattle, also known as Mattu. Cattle are bathed and cleaned, their horns are polished with bright colours and they are garlanded with flowers. The Pongal offered to the gods is later offered to the cattle and birds.