Pongal Date 2016
Friday 15 January 2016
Pongal is the harvest Festival of South India, precisely of Tamil Nadu. It is one of the lavish and extravagant celebrations that farmers look forward to. It is a four day long festival. Each day is associated with different rituals. Pongal echoes with the concept and core theme of honoring agriculture and harvest festivals celebrated in other parts of India.
What is Pongal?
Pongal is one of the major and most important festivals of Tamilnadu. It is also celebrated by Telugu speaking community. In Tamilnadu, Pongal is declared as a Government Holiday. Although it is a harvest festival but everybody celebrates Pongal. Agriculture, after all, is the lifeline of all people! Schools, colleges and educational institutions remain closed even for 10 days as ‘Pongal Holidays.’ Offices remain closed at least for two or three days. This shows how important is this festival of Pongal!
When is Pongal Celebrated?
Pongal falls on the first day of the 10th lunar month of Pausha in the Tamil calendar. In Tamil lunar calendar, this month is called ‘Thai’ and this festival is renowned as ‘Thai Pongal’ or ‘Thai Thirunaal’, which means a respectable special day in the month of Pausha.
The Four Days of Pongal Celebration
The festival starts a day before Pongal and is celebrated for two days after Pongal making it a four day long festival.
Day 1: The eve of Pongal is celebrated as Bhogi, it kick starts the first day of four day Pongal celebration.
Day 2: The first day of the Pausha (Thai) month is celebrated as Pongal.
Day 3: The day after Pongal is celebrated as ‘Maattu Pongal’, a special festival celebrated to honor cows and bulls.
Day 4: The third day of the Pausha month called ‘Kanum Pongal’ means, ‘To See’. This is the day literally allocated to take short tours and picnics with the family and friends.
This year, the festival begins on 14th January 2016 and ends on 17th January 2016.
Pongal is on 15th January 2016.
Importance of the first day of the Pongal month Pausha!
The day on which the Pongal falls has a lot of importance in many contexts. The festival Pongal usually falls on 14th or 15th January each year, which marks the exit of the Sun from the zodiac sign Sagittarius and its entry into the sign Capricorn or Makara. This also explains the festival of Makar Sankranti which falls at the same time as Pongal. In addition, it also marks the birth of 10th month as per the lunar calendar.
According to the holy texts, the first month Pausha marks the six months long journey of the Sun towards the north, called Uttarayanam. The period lasts for 6 months until the mid of July, which marks sun’s exit from the zodiac sign Gemini.
According to the Vedas and holy texts of Hindus, one year appear as one day to the Gods or Devas. Uttarayanam (six months from the day of Pongal to mid of July) refers to night for Gods and Devas, which literally marks the ends of all major festival celebrations.
Dakshinayanam (next six months from mid of July to mid of January until the eve of Pongal) indicates day for the Gods and Devas, and thus has a lots of festivals and celebrations.
The Big and Beautiful Pongal Celebrations
Pongal celebrations are nestled with traditions and culture. It is a cultural carnival of Tamil Nadu. This festival is also celebrated by the farmers and agriculturalists in the other South Indian States. The traditions and practices of the olden days get renewed on this day.
- People of all ages, from kids to elders, wear traditional and ethnic outfits to celebrate the festival, especially on the day of major festival, Pongal.
- Most of the houses are painted new.
- Each of the home adores beautiful and colorful rangoli during all the four days.
- In many villages, various competitions and cultural performances are conducted as a part of celebration.
Day 1 of Pongal : Bhogi
The day is celebrated to honor the rain god, Lord Indra. People worship Lord Indra so as to get his blessings for rain at appropriate season and for providing abundance of crops. Also, this is the day believed to fight away the evil from the lives of the people.
- People wake up early in the morning.
- Celebrants collect the unwanted things (all objects from clothes to broken things that cannot be used), burn it and create a bon fire in the early morning. Men, women and kids dance around the bonfire playing handmade drums.
- It is believed that the warmth from the bonfire keeps the lives of the people happy.
- The destruction of useless and unwanted things represents fighting away all the bad things, in all aspects, from within all the people.
- The big, bright and glowing light of the bonfire sparks the light of happiness, health and wealth.
- Later, the day is the celebrated by cooking a special feast.
Day 2: Pongal
The Big Day of the Four Days Festival, Pongal, is celebrated in style.
Pongal has many specialties, which makes it unique from the rest of the festivals. The authentic celebration of Pongal along with traditional rituals varies a lot with the current day celebrations. However, the essence of the celebrations remains intact. Still, in villages and in several parts of Tamil Nadu, people celebrate Pongal festival in the authentic way.
Decoration of the Home
Decorating the home, rather cleaning the home forms base to the festival.
There is a funny saying that even the homes that looked terrible and tainted turns into a new home, ready for a housewarming ceremony during the Pongal festival.
It is believed strongly that keeping the home and atmosphere clean invites a lot of positive vibes and good fortune.
Rangoli aka Kolam
In all homes, during the festival, women draw beautiful designs at the entrance.
You can see the people celebrating Pongal wearing traditional attires, the real ethnic wear.
- Men wear dhotis, the ethnic outfit of the men in Tamilnadu.
- Women wear silk sarees, cotton sarees and sarees made from natural yarn.
- Younger women and teen girls wear silk or cotton half-saree.
- Kids wear silk skirts and shirts (Pavadai-Chattai).
Celebration with Seasonal Crops
Being a harvest festival, the celebration includes the seasonal crops, harvested during that specific season. Paddy, sugarcane, and turmeric are the three major crops cultivated during the winter season. Jaggery is the by-product of sugarcane and this is used as a major flavoring agent to cook the special Pongal delicacies. In addition, the seasonal vegetables like pumpkin (ash gourd and squash) also form major part of the festival dishes.
People cook with new grains, most commonly, they use the rice harvested before the festival.
Pongal Dish- Clay Pot Cooking to Pressure Cooker Cooking
This is the essence of the Pongal festival. A special food is cooked and it is called, Pongal. The term Pongal refers to ‘Boiling over, but not overflowing.’ The boiling over of the dish cooked is an affirmative sign, which indicates that life is blessed with abundance of wealth, health and happiness.
Pongal is nothing but a dish cooked with rice and dal. Although there are two varieties of this recipe available, sweet and savory Pongal, sweet Pongal is cooked on this day. Usually, a new pot is purchased a few days before the festival and is decorated beautifully with art and drawings on the pot.
- The pot is applied turmeric paste, sandalwood paste and kumkum (vermilion).
- Fresh turmeric rhizome with leaf is tied around the neck of the pot.
Clay pot cooking has been transformed into cooking the recipe in bronze vessel over a gas stove. Cooking the recipe in a vessel is very tricky. So, women who aren’t used to cooking in a vessel, use pressure cooker to make this special festival recipe.
However, still buying the new vessel and decorating it (as mentioned above) is followed as a custom.
When the Pongal boils over, people shout in happiness, ‘Pongalo Pongal!’
Outdoor Cooking of Sweet Pongal like Olden Days
A new cow-dung or red-sand cake stove is formed outdoors. Using wood, coal and the dried stems of trees, sweet Pongal is cooked over this traditional stove. Alternatively, villagers simply layer the bricks like a stove, fire it using sticks and cook Pongal. The recipe cooked outdoors is made on the stove that faces the east direction.
People make a tribute and honor is paid to the Sun god by cooking the main recipe of Pongal outdoors, directly offering the dish to the Sun. In some homes and communities, people cook the recipe at their home entrance.
Those who cook indoors (this happens in most of the cities and semi-urban areas), offer the Sweet Pongal to Sun God outdoors.
The ritual of Cooking Sweet Pongal
Husband and wife (the eldest couple of the family) put the ingredients to cook the Sweet Pongal together. This is a beautiful custom that indicates that the couples live happily with sweetness filled in their lives eternally.
In addition, another holy pot is used to cook white rice, which is also offered to the Sun God.
Sugarcane is also offered to the Sun God, thanking for showering his bliss to the farmers. Two or four sugarcanes are placed during the Pooja. After Pooja, the sugarcane is cut into pieces and distributed among the family, friends and neighbors.
In addition to the special recipe, ‘Sweet Pongal’ a lavish meal is cooked this day. It generally comprises of a typical South Indian meal, which includes but is not limited to the following:
- White rice
- Sambhar aka dal cooked with white pumpkin or yellow pumpkin
- Sweet Pongal
- Five different types of vegetable curry (usually, potato, beans, cabbage, yellow pumpkin)
- Urad dal or mixed lentil fritters (commonly termed as Vadai)
- Different types of pachadi (pickled vegetables soaked in curd)
- savory stew
Yellow pumpkin stir fry or stew is yet another important recipe of the Pongal feast. This is common menu with around 15 to 20 recipes and it also includes the special and authentic recipes of the respective locality.
Day 3: Mattu Pongal
This festival is celebrated to honor the cattle that supported agriculture, specifically the cows and bulls. Cattle is considered a source of wealth and honored by Tamils. They provide fertilizers, dairy products and act as a labor to plough the paddy fields.
Celebrants bathe the animals, apply turmeric and vermilion, beautify them by painting the horns, etc. Cattles take bath in turmeric water and bathed using shampoo or shikakai (a herb). They are adorned with flower garlands, balloons etc.
Villagers who rely on cattle for their livelihood or use cattle as a part of agriculture, they do arti to the cattle and worship them on this day. Arti is singing a devotional song in praise of some deity or honored object.
Controlling the Wild Bull
The ritual of taming the wild bull is a major part of this day and has been followed for ages. This ritual was used to assess the strength, bravery and power of men. The man who controls the wild bull receives hefty rewards. However, due to a lot of injuries and deaths, a ban is imposed on taming bull sport.
Another face of Mattu Pongal is Kanu, which is similar to Bhai Dooj festival. This day is celebrated by women in the families and they pray for the health and wellness of their brothers.
All ingredients used to decorate the Pongal pot are used on this day for this ritual.
A bowl of white rice and sweet Pongal is generally kept aside to feed the birds for this occasion.
The white rice is separated into three parts.
- White rice
- Red rice – white rice mixed with kumkum
- Yellow rice – white rice mixed with turmeric
So, there will be four varieties of cooked rice, offered to the birds.
- Sweet Pongal
- White Rice
- Red Rice
- Yellow rice
Each variety of the rice is roughly made into small oval shaped balls. The rice should be the leftover of the ones cooked on the day of Pongal.
Women in the family (from elders to young girls), wakeup early in the morning before sunrise. After brushing, before taking bath, they seek blessing from the elderly women in the family and the neighboring elderly women. Married women also get blessings from their husband.
- They use the raw and fresh turmeric rhizome used to decorate the cooking pot to seek blessings.
- The elderly women bless those who seek the blessing by rubbing the raw turmeric on their forehead.
- After seeking the blessings, women in the family draw a small kolam or rangoli.
- They place the leaves of the turmeric (used to tie the Pongal pot) in the form of plating.
- Bananas, sugarcane, and betel leaves are placed adjacent to the leaves.
- Age-wise, from elderly to the younger, women start placing the rice balls on the turmeric leaves. Each woman place one color rice ball on the leaves, which accounts to placing four different balls on the leaves.
- When they place the rice balls on the leaves, they say, ‘Kaka Pidi and Kanu Pidi!’
- After all women in the family complete this ritual, aarti is offered to the offering.
Delicacies of the Mattu Pongal
Various forms of rice are cooked on this day. Some of the common foods include,
- Puliogare (rice cooked in tamarind and spices)
- Lemon rice
- Coconut rice
- Coriander rice / Mint leaves rice / sesame seeds rice
- Savory stew cooked with seasonal vegetables (at least 7 vegetables) and legumes (chick peas or peas) in tamarind gravy and dal.
- Stew cooked in curd (vegetables, lentil and spices cooked in curd)
- Different varieties of chips and papad
- Any variety of sweet, most commonly a kheer.
Day 4: Kanum Pongal
This is the last day of the Pongal festival. Celebrants generally travel to the nearby places as a picnic and spend the day in leisure. Everyone seems to have stepped of their homes. There is sea of people everywhere.
Happy Pongal!! Celebrate the Harvest Festival and stay blessed with all the nature’s bounties!