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Significance of Pongal

Pongal is among the best known festivals and certainly one of the major festivals in Tamil Nadu, India. It is today observed by Tamilians around the world. The four day festival falls in the Tamil month of Thai (January – February). It celebrates the harvest, especially the rice crop, and is considered to be an ancient form of thanksgiving. The festival is named after the rice pudding or Pongal prepared on the festival day.

Pongal is an ancient festival and its origin can be traced back to the Sangam Era (200 BC – 300 AD). The entire festival even today maintains the Dravidian practices and is untouched by external influences including Aryan.

The first day of the festival is known as Bhogi Pongal. The second day is the Suryan Pongal or the Perum Pongal. The third day is the Mattu Pongal or the Pongal of cattle. The fourth day is the Kaanum Pongal.

The Surya Pongal or Perum Pongal is the most important day and is dedicated to Lord Surya – Sun god. It is on this day that the most important ceremony of Pongal takes place.

For Pongal, the homes are freshly painted, swept and cleared. Doorways are marked with kumkum, turmeric and sandalwood paste. Colorful garlands of flowers and mango leaves are hung on the doors. The courtyard in front of each home is decorated with Pongal kolams – designs in white rice powder bordered with red clay.

Fresh farm products including sugarcane, turmeric, and coconut are arranged on plantain leaves and kept near the kolam.

The most important event is the preparation of the Pongal dish. A new metal or earthen pot is filled with milk and set to boil. When the milk is boiled, newly harvested rice, sugarcane and turmeric is added. The neck of the pot is tied with tender turmeric leaves.

The first prepared Pongal on the day is offered to Surya and each of its auspicious ingredients has a symbolic meaning. Milk and rice are the signs of prosperity, sugarcane of sweetness and turmeric augurs the good things to come.

Pongal is celebrated as Makara Sankranti in other parts of India. Pongal marks the beginning of Uttarayana Punyakalam – the daytime of devas.