Pongal is a popular harvest festival of Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated on 14th of January every year, coinciding with the Lohri of Punjab, Bhogali Bihu of Assam and Makar Sankranti of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Pongal is mainly celebrated for giving thanks to nature, for a bountiful harvest. This four-day festival is celebrated in the season when rice (and other cereals), sugar-cane and turmeric are harvested. Pongal marks the beginning of Thai, a month of hope and joy, considered auspicious for marriages. As a part of Pongal celebrations, entrance ways to the houses are decorated with beautiful Kolams (patterns made with rice flour), to feed the insects and gain their blessings for the household. New clothes are bought and sweets and delicacies are prepared. Bull fights, bird fights and community dinners are also arranged on this day.
First Day Pongal Celebrations
The first day of Pongal is devoted to Lord Indra, who is the supreme ruler of clouds that give rain. People pay homage to Lord Indra for the abundance of harvest and prosperity to the land. There is a custom of throwing useless household articles into a fire, made of wood and cow-dung cakes. Girls are seen dancing around the bonfire and singing songs in praise of the God.
Second Day Pongal Celebrations
On the second day of Pongal, a puja is performed. Rice is boiled in milk, outdoors – in an earthenware pot, and is symbolically offered to the Sun God, along with other oblations. On this day, husband and wife dispose off elegant ritual utensils, specially used for the puja. There is a ritual of tying turmeric plant around the pot in which the rice will be boiled. The offerings include coconut and bananas in a dish, with two sticks of sugar-cane in background.
Third Day Pongal Celebrations
It is also known as Mattu Pongal, the day when cattle are worshiped. The cattle are decorated with multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands. They are fed with Pongal and taken to the village center, where the young men race each other’s cattle. It makes the atmosphere more festive and full of fun. Later on, aarti is performed.
Fourth Day Pongal Celebrations
The final day of Pongal celebration is known as Knau or Kannum Pongal. On this day, a turmeric leaf is washed and kept on ground. The left over of sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice colored red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains are placed on it. All the women assemble in the courtyard and pray for the prosperity of their brother. An aarti is performed with turmeric water, limestone and rice and the items are sprinkled on the kolam in front of the house.