As the January chill sets in, the joy of Pongal resounds the air. Pongal is celebrated on January 14th every year and is also one of the longest celebrations in the Tamil calendar, spread over four days.
The festival of Pongal is held dear particularly by the farming community as it marks the end of harvesting season.
The markets start receiving stacks of sugarcanes, turmeric saplings and a horde of farm produces. The run-up to Pongal is as exciting as celebrating the occasion that is believed to ring in prosperity.
Pongal is celebrated for four days and the celebrations on the first day of the Tamil month Thai and continues for the three days.
The month of Thai is supposed to be very auspicious for every kind of activity. The Sun is worshipped for his rays are responsible for the life on earth.
It is the biggest harvest festival, spread over four days. 'Bhogi' is celebrated on January 14, 'Pongal' on January 15, 'Mattu Pongal' on January 16, and 'Thiruvalluvar Day' on January 17.
The name of the festival is derived from Pongal, a rice pudding made from freshly harvested rice, milk and jaggery.
The first day, "Bhogi Pongal", is a day for the family.
"Surya Pongal", the second day, is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God.
"Mattu Pongal", is for the worship of the cattle.Cattle are bathed, their horns polished and painted in bright colors, and garlands of flowers placed around their necks. Pongal is associated with cleaning and burning of rubbish, symbolizing the destruction of evil.
All the four days of Pongal have there own individual significance. On the first day, delicious preparations are made and homes are washed and decorated.
Doorways are painted with vermilion and sandalwood paste with colourful garlands of leaves and flowers decorating the outside of almost every home. On this day 'Bhogi' or the Rain God is worshipped.
A typical traditional Pongal celebration has a number of rituals attached to it. The place where the Pongal Puja is to be conducted is cleaned and smeared with dung, a day prior to the festival. People generally choose an open courtyard for this purpose.
'Kolams' (Rangoli) generally drawn with rice flour are special to the occasion. The idea behind using rice flour is that the insects would feed on it and bless the household.
At the center of it a lump of cow dung holds a five-petal pumpkin flower, which is regarded as a symbol of fertility and an offering of love to the presiding deity. In a similar way the houses are also cleaned, painted and decorated.
Kolams (Rangoli) are made in the front yards of the houses and new clothes for the whole family are bought to mark the festivities. Even the cattle are gaily caparisoned with beads, bells and flowers-their horns painted and capped with gleaming metals.
Sweet rice, known as "Pongal", is cooked in a new earthenware pot at the same place where puja is to be performed. Fresh turmeric and ginger are tied around this pot. Then a delicious concoction of rice, Moong Dal, jaggery and milk are boiled in the pot on an open fire.
This Pongal, according to ritual, is allowed to boil and spill out of the pot. Pongal, once ready, is offered to God first, on a new banana leaf along with other traditional delicacies like Vadas, Payasam, etc. Besides this, sugarcane, grain, sweet potatoes, etc are also offered to the Sun God.
A procession is taken out from the Kandaswamy (also spelt as Kandaswami) Temple in Chennai. In Madurai, Tanjore and Tiruchirrapalli, where Pongal is known as Jellikattu, bundles of money are tied to the horns of bulls, and villagers try and wrest the bundles from them. Community meals are made from the freshly gathered harvest and enjoyed by the entire village.