I intend to write a note on every important festival that is celebrated through the year by Hindus and the various cultural and gastronomic signifacance of the same. Last year when I started the blog, I was thinking of doing something along these lines but a conversation with my MIL helped me crystalize the whole idea. Here goes the first one in the series.
Pongal or Sankranthi is a harvest festival celebrated mid-winter, essentially to thank Mother Nature for the bountiful of the previous year and expressing hope and praying for the next year to be just as plentiful. It is celebrated in differnt avatars in the various parts of India.
Known as Sankranthi in most parts of India, Lohri & Maghi in Punjab and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Pongal, in Tamizh, means “boiling over” and on Pongal day, milk is boiled over in a “Vengala Paanai” (Bronze Pot) signifying prosperity. Although celebreated in myriad forms and traditions, the one common thread in this festival is the reverence to the Sun God (Surya). Understandably, this festival is celebrated with much gaiety and devotion in the villages.
This period also signifies the ascendancy of the sun into the Northern Hemisphere known as Uttarayana. In Tamil Nadu, the festival is celebrated over 3 days starting with the last day of Margazhi and the first 2 days of Thai, 9th and 10th months of the Tamil Calendar respectively.
The first day is Bhogi, signifies the end of the previous season and marks new beginnings. This is also the time for spring cleaning to get rid of the unwanted stuff in the house, and these are usually set on fire. Bhogi is usually welcomed with a smoggy dawn and day, probably 🙂 Of course, every festival in India is incomplete without the goodies that are made for that specific day. On Bhogi day, the festive lunch includes Poli and vadai, apart from the usual many course (Sambar, Mor Kozhambu, Kootu, Rasam, curries – dry veggie preparations and payasam – kheer) lunch. (I am hoping to link these to recipes, as and when they are up on this site).
The 2nd day (the first day of Thai) is Pongal – the main festival. On this day, Sakkarai Pongal (Sweet Pongal) is prepared in a Bronze pot by boiling rice, milk and jaggery. (If you haven’t still figured it out, this is when the milk boils over, giving the festival its name 🙂 ). Sugarcane, found in abundance during this time of the year, completes Pongal. Truckloads of sugarcane piled are on the road, waiting to be sold indicates that Pongal is round the corner. On this day, an elaborate pooja is performed in honor of the Sun God.
Kanu Pongal and Maatu Pongal are celebrated on the 3rd day. Kanu Pongal is celebrated by sisters for their brother’s welfare, very similar to Raksha Bhandan. Girls get up early in the morning and offer, different varieties of mixed rice rolled into small balls, to the birds and pray for their brother’s well-being. Usually, the left-over Sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal from the previous day is placed along with rice colored in red and yellow, and finally curd rice on turmeric leaves. After heavy-duty cooking on the previous two days, folks normally eat mixed rice like Pulithorai, Lemon Rice and Curd Rice. Maatu Pongal is a festival to thank the cattle for the yeomen services that they provide to the farmers – cattle provide milk, plough the field and are considered to be symbols of prosperity.
Photos courtesy of Kamala L’s Pongal Celebration. Please see site for license information.