Every festival in India has some association with either agriculture, the sun, the moon, and with colours. This country has been an agrarian country since ages. Even in this age of technology, a major population of India still rely on agriculture. Hence, throughout the country, many special moments are celebrated connected with the farming activities. As agriculture is mainly dependent on the rain, people religiously devout their time to thank the rain god, and the animals that have worked with them in the field.
To thank the ultimate force of the nature, the sun god, and the cattle, a thanksgiving festival is observed every year throughout the country. This harvest festival is the Indian origin of the Thankgiving celebrated in the western countries. In Tamil Nadu, this festival is called 'Pongal.' People enjoy it with true devotion and lots of fervor, and for four days in a row. Each day has lots of importance and meaning. It is organized to thank the nature for bestowing good harvest. It has derived its name from 'ponga' which means 'boil,' and the word Pongal imply 'spillover.'
Every year Pongal comes on 14th or 15th January, which is the Tamil month. This is the time when crops such as rice, sugar cane, cereals and turmeric are gathered or collected from the fields. This festival brings all positive energies, happiness and hopes for people. Tamilians believe that all the differences between family members, relatives, friends and neighbour would be sorted out with the advent of Pongal. In this month, wedding ceremonies since financial conditions of people is good due to the harvest.
Here are the significance of the four-day harvest festival in Pongal:
The first day is the Bhogi Pongal and is dedicated to Lord Indra, the rain God. People pay respect and thank the lord for providing good rain which yields good crops. As the production is good, so the income. In the evening, a traditional ritual is held which is known as Bhogi Mantalu. According to the tradition, a bonfire is lighted with the help of woods and cow dung cakes. When the fire catches up, family members bring old and dispensable household materials and throw them into the fire. They sing songs praising the god and dance around the fire as it continues to burn.
The second day is the Surya Pongal in which people thank Lord Surya, the Sun God. Poeple dress up in new and traditional clothes to get ready for the puja. Women prepare auspicious designs in front of the house with white lime powder. After that, a thick board is placed on the ground and a large image of Sun is drawn on it to pray him and receive his blessing.
A special meal is prepared as an offering to the Sun. Rice is cooked with milk in an earthen pot outside their house on a specially designed platform which is lighted with wood. This type of facilities is only available in villages since in city you cannot cook outside the home. Before the pot is placed for cooking, they tie turmeric plant around it. Then, they add coconut, jaggery, elaichi (cardamom), and bananas in the dish. After the dish is prepared, it is offered to the Sun along with other presentations.
The third day is observed to thank the cattle. Therefore, this celebration is known as Mattu Pongal since Mattu in Tamil means cattle. People worship cow for giving them milk and Bull for pulling the plough and helping in the farming activities. They give bath to the cattle, polish their horns and tie a garland of flowers around their neck. The food that is offered to the God is then given to them. They are even offered Pongal which is also the name of the dish cooked on the previous day. These cattle are then taken to the village centre to participate in race competition and bull fight.
The last day of the celebration ends with Knau or Kannum Pongal. There is a special type of ritual performed on this day. Women of the house perform in the puja in the morning after the bath. They first clean the worship area. After that, they wash and place turmeric leaf on the area. Additional ingredients are placed on the leaf such as betel nuts, betel leaves, Pongal, white and colored rice, and bananas. When the puja preparation is done, all the members of the family gather and perform the Arati. Women also pray for the family for their brothers and seek blessing for them.
One of the interesting story which is not known to many about Pongal which is associated with the first day of celebration is that once Lord Indra became arrogant as he was worshiped by all. To break his arrogance, Lord Krishna plays a trick and ask the people of his village to start praying to the Mount Govardhan. This baffles Indra, and in a fit of rage he orders the clouds under his command to strike thunderstorm and flood the area. To rescue the people and the cattle, Lord Krishna lifts the Govardhan Mountain and makes it a shed. Indra soon realizes his mistake and seek Krishna's forgiveness.
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