India is bestowed with the bliss of festivity. A major segment of the population here depends on agriculture. As a result, most of the festivals are also related to the agricultural activities of the people. These festivals are celebrated with different names and rituals in almost all the parts of India. Pongal is one of such highly revered festivals celebrated in Tamil Nadu to mark the harvesting of crops by farmers. Held in the middle of January, it is the time when the people get ready to thank God, Earth and their Cattle for the wonderful harvest and celebrate the occasion with joyous festivities and rituals.
The four-day Harvest festival is celebrated all over the state in January.
The festival begins on the last day of the Tamil month with Bhogi Pongal followed by Surya Pongal on the next day.
It is on this day that Chakkara Pongal, a delicacy of harvest rice cooked with jaggery, ghee and cashew nuts is offered to the Sun God.
The third day, Mattu Pongal is dedicated to the Cattle when cows are bathed and adorned with colorful beads and flowers.
Jallikattu, the bullfight is held on the last day known as Kannum Pongal.
Pongal in Tamil Nadu is celebrated to mark the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons as well as the reaping of the harvest.
The Sun is worshiped for its rays are responsible for life on earth.
It is the biggest harvest festival, spread over four days. The name of the festival is derived from Pongal, a rice pudding made from freshly harvested rice, milk and jaggery.
The first day of Thai is Pongal or Makara Sankranthi - a day of thanking Mother Nature in general and surya in particular, for his help throughout the year for a bountiful harvest.
Chakarai Pongal was cooked in decorated brand new earthen pots, using the newly harvested rice, lentils and jaggery, and offered to Surya.
Next day is Mattu (cow) Pongal. Cows and the cattle were washed and decorated. Bull fights were part of these festivities in villages. Sisters prayed for the welfare and prosperity of their brothers on this day (similar to Rakhi festival). Offering colorful rice and Pongal balls to birds was a part of these festivities.
The celebrations ended on the forth day, Kanum Pongal, with a picnic where the young and old enjoyed a carefree day.
In Karnataka, the festival is marked by visiting one's friends and relatives to exchange greetings, and by the preparation of a dish called Ellu (made with sesame seeds, coconuts, sugar blocks, etc).
A common custom found across Karnataka is the exchange of sugarcane pieces and Ellu with one's neighbors, friends and relatives.
In Karnataka, Pongal is known as 'Sankranti', and cows and bullocks are gaily decorated and fed 'Pongal'- a sweet preparation of rice.
Special prayers are offered in the temples and houses. In the evening, the cattle are led out in procession to the beat of drums and music. In the night a bonfire is lit and the animals are made to jump over the fire.
Makar Sankranti or Pongal is marked by men, women and children wearing colorful clothing; visiting near and dear ones; and exchanging pieces of sugarcane, a mixture of fried til, molasses, pieces of dry coconut, peanuts and fried gram. The significance of this exchange is that sweetness should prevail in all the dealings.
At Gavi Gangadhareshwara (Siva) temple in Bangalore's Gavipuram, a rare phenomenon is witnessed in the evening. The Sun's rays pass through the horns of the Nandi briefly to fall on the Lingam in the sanctum. It is an architectural marvel.
In Kerala Pongal festival is known as Makar Sankranti.
On this day at the hill shrine of Sabarimala, lakhs of pilgrims witness a star-like celestial light of incredible splendor appearing on the horizon. Known as Makara Jyothi, this miracle occurs at the time of the evening Deeparadhana.
Pilgrims consider it a great moment of fulfillment. Lord Ayyappa is adorned with special jewels known as Thiruvaabharanam. Legend has it that these jewels were donated to the Lord by the erstwhile Pandalam Maharaja, considered the foster father of the Lord.
In Maharashtra, January 14 is celebrated as a festival of Makar Sankranti and is marked by the flying of kites.
The entire sky becomes a showcase of colorful kites of various sizes and shapes. On this day, people exchange homemade delicacies like til and gur laddoos and wish each other the sweetness of speech, throughout the year just the way the gur tastes.
A newly wed woman gives away oil, cotton and sesame seeds to mark the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti.
This is believed to bestow upon her and her family long life and prosperity. The women wear new clothes, new glass bangles, and relatives are invited to attend the Haldi Kumkum celebration to welcome the new bride into their family.
In Gujarat, Pongal day is celebrated as Makar Sankranti. Sankrant is observed more or less in the same manner as in Maharashtra.
The difference is that in Gujarat there is a custom of giving gifts to relatives. The elders in the family give gifts to the younger members of the family.
The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy.
Pongal thus helps the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste and community.
Kite flying is a major event for Pongal in Gujarat. Traditionally celebrated on the 13th or 14th January, it is a day when every family can be seen outdoors 'cutting' each other's kites. Kites of myriad hues, shapes and sizes decorate the skies from dawn to dusk during this festival.
The vast panorama of the sky dotted with thousand of kites becomes a wonderful sight to see.
The International Kite Festival is held at the capital city Ahmedabad on January 14 to coincide with the festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti.
The people of Gujarat celebrate Uttarayan with a lot of enthusiasm and all business comes to a grinding halt for 3 to 4 days. It is also a celebration to mark the end of winter.
The excitement does not end with nightfall, which is the time for illuminated box kites, often in a series strung on one line, to be launched into the sky. Known as "tukals", these add a touch of splendor to the dark sky.
In Uttar Pradesh, the day of Pongal is celebrated as Makar Sankranti. It is generally known as Kicheri.
Having bath on this day is regarded as most important. A mass of humanity can be seen bathing in the Sangam at Prayagraj where the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswathi flow together.
At the confluence of these holy rivers every year Kumbh Mela is held for full one month. According to a popular belief in the hills of Uttar Pradesh, a person who does not take a bath on this auspicious day will be born as a donkey in his next birth.
To mark the occasion of Makar Sankranti, a big mela or fair is also organized at the Triveni Sangam in Allahabad. As the mela is held in the beginning of the month of Magha, this fair is named as Magha Mela.
Apart from Triveni, ritual bathing is also organized at places like Haridwar and Garh Mukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh. Many kite-flying competitions are also held in various localities to mark the occasion.
In Andhra Pradesh, Pongal celebrations start a month in advance. Bhogi is the day preceding Sankranti and Kanumu is the day after.
On Bhogi day, in the early morning, a bonfire is lit up with waste before the traditional special bath. Pongali (rice pudding with milk) is an important item during this festival.
Special dishes, like ariselu (sweet rice cakes), are prepared. On Kanumu day animals are decorated and races are held, sometimes the banned cockfights, bullfights and ram fights are included. Sun, Mahabali (a mythological Dravidian king) and Godadevi (Goddess Goda) are worshiped during this harvest festival.
Muggulu (Rangoli), Gobbillu, Bhogi Mantalu (bonfire) Bommala Koluvu, Hari Dasulu and Gangireddulu were the endearing sights of Sankranthi season. On Bhogi day the attention is on children. Children are showered with Senagalu, (soaked whole chenna), sugar cane and coconut bits, Regi Pandlu, and copper coins to remove “Dhristi” or to protect them from any evil spell.
On Sankranthi day the attention is on the newly married daughters and sons-in-law, and other family members. A nice Sankranthi Vindu Bhojanam (festive meal) is shared by all, after the “Ishta Devatha” Pooja.
On the third day, the attention is on “those that helped” during the year. Farmers washed, decorated cattle that day. Servants were given new clothing or other gifts. During the first three days, young girls invited the neighbors to visit their Bommala Koluvu.
Visitors are offered Pasupu, Kunkuma, Thambulam (pan) and fruits. On the forth day, the women and children take a pair of Bommalu from the Koluvu to the river, in a procession with Mangala Vadyalu. The procession stopped at each street to gather more participants.
The Bommala pair was given a boat ride (Vaalladimpu). Everyone returned home after enjoying a snack of Pulihora and Daddojanam on the waterfront.