Pongal, a harvest festival, was originally celebrated by Tamils who were a part of the farming community. But, it is now popularly observed by every Tamil family in Southern India and other parts of the world. Pongal is observed to thank the Sun God for his blessing the farmers, the rains, and the cattle that help in agricultural activities. With this festival, starts the Thai month of the Tamil calendar.
One of the most important traditions followed during this festival is performing a puja for agricultural equipments. The Tamils smear these tools with sandalwood paste before the puja is performed. Then the harvested paddy is cut with these agricultural tools.
This is the first day of the harvest festival. On this day, people burn their old clothes and unnecessary goods in a bonfire made of cow-dung and wood. They also clean their houses as a sign of getting rid of the old and welcoming the new. The Tamils worship Lord Indra on this day. They also dance around the bonfire singing the praise of Indra. One of the important features of the Bhogi festival is the home decoration with colorful rangolis or kolams, which are geometrical designs created with a paste of harvested rice and colorful powders.
This is the 2nd day of the festival and the primary celebrations are held on this day itself. On this day, a sweet dish is cooked with rice, milk, and a sweetener like jaggery. As soon as the rice is cooked and it spills over, people start shouting “Pongallo Pongal”. The Tamils consider the spilling of the rice as a sign of good luck and prosperity. This dish is then offered to Sun God and nature as a way of expressing gratitude for the abundant harvest.
Mattu Pongal: On the third day of the festival of Pongal, people thank their cattle by taking good care of them and decorating them with flowers and bells. The horns of the cattle are painted. People feed them sweet rice and sugarcane. There is a contest held on this day, which is known as “Jallikatu” or taming the bull. In this contest, bundles of notes are tied to the horns of cattle and all efforts are taken to retrieve the money from there.
This is the final day of the harvest festival. This is when people visit their friends’ and family members’ houses and also the temples to worship the Sun God and make him an offering of freshly cooked food including coconut and sugarcane. They also offer food to the crows on this occasion.