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Pongal: Everything You Need to Know About The Harvest Festival!

Pongal: Everything You Need to Know About The Harvest Festival!

If you reside in any part of Southern India, you are well aware of Pongal, the popular harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu. This four-day-long harvest festival is celebrated during mid-January annually when certain crops like rice and sugarcane are harvested. Well, Pongal gives the chance to people to say ‘thanks’ to nature and embrace what it has to offer. During the festivity, Tamilians indulge in certain rituals and also eat a rice dish called ‘Pongal’ to their heart’s content. Read on to know the customs associated with this 4-day harvest festival and delicacies of the South served during the festivity.

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Pongal Celebrations – How are 4-Days Celebrated?

The term ‘Pongal’ is “to boil” in the Tamil language so the tradition associated with the festival involves boiling the rice till it overflows. Pongal is celebrated as a thanksgiving ceremony for the annual harvest season and also involves the consumption of Pongal – a rich dish usually prepared with sweetened rice boiled with lentils.

The First Day of Pongal – The Bhogi Festival

The festival commences with a special puja done by the members of the family before they go out and harvest the crops. The Bhogi festival is celebrated to honor the God of rain ‘Lord Indra’. During the festival, useless items of the household are thrown in the bonfire prepared from wood and cow dung cakes. Farmers cover their ploughs and other farming tools with sandalwood paste and then use them to harvest their crops.

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The Second Day of Pongal – Surya Pongal

On this day, a special offering of rice and milk is made to Lord Surga or the Sun God. The rice is boiled with milk and jaggery in an earthen vessel to which a turmeric plant is tied. Along with these, bananas, coconuts, and sugarcane sticks are also offered. Some people also make an auspicious drawing called ‘Kolam’ on their home entrances early in the morning.

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The Third Day of Pongal – Mattu Pongal

Mattu Pongal, the third day of Pongal, is celebrated in the name of cows that are considered sacred in Hindu tradition. The cattle are bathed and adorned in bright vibrant colors and bells. Garlands are put in their neck to honor them.

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The Fourth Day of Pongal – Kaanum Pongal

Kaanum Pongal marks the end of the festivity. On this fourth day, womenfolk of the house bath in the morning and then assemble in the courtyard. The food along with leftover sweet Pongal is placed on a turmeric leaf alongside sugarcane, betel leaves, and betel nuts. An aarti is performed by the women and they pray for the prosperity of their brothers. The water used in the pooja is then sprinkled on the Kolam. The leftover Pongal is then offered to cattle and birds.

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Stories of Hindu Gods Associated with Pongal

The first story mentioned in the Hindu sacred texts is of Lord Shiva who asked his bull Basava to go to the Earth and tell humans to bathe every day and eat once a month. The bull absentmindedly announced that they should eat every day and bathe once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva and he cursed Basava to live with humans forever and also help them plough their fields. Since then, cattle have become a critical part of farming.

The second story is associated with Lord Indra and Lord Krishna. It is said that Krishna decided to teach Indra a lesson and told his cowherds to stop worshipping the latter. This angered Indra and he caused a heavy thunderstorm and rains for 3 continuous days where Krishna lived. But Krishna lifted the Govardhan Parvat and saved the humans and animals.

Dishes to Prepare & Eat During Pongal

Pongal is a rice dish that is prepared with lentils. Some jaggery is added to get sweetened rice which is then eaten wholeheartedly. However, there are certain variations of Pongal dish people opt for and they are as follows:

  • Sakkarai Pongal – Sweet rice dish made with rice, moong dal, and jaggery often topped with dry fruits
  • Ven Pongal – Dish made with rice and yellow moong lentils
  • Rava Pongal – Pongal dish made with Rava and moong dal usually served with coconut chutney
  • Khara Pongal – A version of Pongal that includes rice, moong dal, and dry coconut
  • Chakkra Pongal – Chakkara Pongal is made out of rice, jaggery, moong dal, dry fruits, and coconut milk
  • Payasam – A Kheer made with rice, sugar, and milk
  • Butter Murukku – Fried snack prepared with rice flour, roasted chana dal flour, gram flour, and butter. 
  • Tamarind Rice – Sweet and sour rice dish made out of rice, tamarind, lemon, urad dal, curry leaves, and mustard seeds
  • Medu Vada – A doughnut-shaped fritter made with urad dal and rice and served with sambar and coconut chutney

Image Credit: Chitra’s Food Book

Places to Visit to Celebrate Pongal

Every region of Tamil Nadu celebrates the 4-day harvest festival of Pongal. If you want to travel to the state and take part in the festivities with the locals, try traveling to these regions.

Madurai

To capture the true essence of the festival, travel to Madurai. Known for its exquisite temples, villages, and fields, this place will offer you an unforgettable experience. In Madurai, farmers and their families follow all the special rituals on the four days of Pongal. You will also see temples especially of the Sun God adorned with florals and lights. Some places you can visit in the magnificent city include Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, Vaigai Dam, Pazhamudhir Solai, Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal, and Aayiram Kaal Mandapam.

Image Credit: outlookindia

Coimbatore

This textile city also celebrates Pongal wholeheartedly. The houses are cleaned, painted, and decorated. Kolams are drawn in the home entrances and there are festive vibes everywhere. Well, some of the best tourist spots of this city are Vydehi Falls, Marudhamalai Hill Temple, Perur Pateeswarar Temple, Adiyogi Shiva Statue, Kovai Kondattam, Velliangiri Hill Temple, etc.

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Thanjavur

The ancient temples and lush greenery present in Thanjavur are enough to enchant you. During Pongal, the city turns vibrant as the homes are decorated with flowers and kolams. The main celebrations of Pongal are carried out on the third day of Pongal i.e. Mattu Pongal at the ancient Brihadeeshwara Temple. During the celebration, hundreds of cows are assembled at the temple and worshipped. Apart from the temple, visitors are also hit top attractions of the city including Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Thirunallar Temple, Shiva Ganga Garden, and Punnainallur Mariamman Koil.

Image Credit: wonderthatwasindia.blogspot.com

Pongal celebrations show the best of Tamil Nadu’s culture and traditions. If you are someone who has never celebrated this harvest festival, visit Tamil Nadu and soak in the warmth of the festivities.

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