Pongal is an ancient festival of people in South India particularly Tamils. The history of the festival can be traced back to the Sangam Age i.e. 200 B.C. To 300 A.D. Although, Pongal originated as a Dravidian Harvest festival and has a mention in Sanskrit Puranas, historians identify the festival with the Thai Un and Thai Niradal which are believed to have been celebrated during the Sangam Age.
Observance of Pongal During the Sangam Era (Thai Niradal)
The celebrations of Sangam Era led to today's Pongal celebrations. As part of the festivities, maidens of the Sangam era observed 'Pavai Nonbu' at the time of Thai Niradal which was a major festival during the reign of the Pallavas (4th to 8th Century AD). It was observed during the Tamil month of Margazhi (December-January). During this festival young girls prayed for rain and prosperity of the country. Throughout the month, they avoided milk and milk products. They would not oil their hair and refrained from using harsh words while speaking. Women used to bath early in the morning. They worshiped the idol of Goddess Katyayani, which would be carved out of wet sand. They ended their penance on the first day of the month of Thai (January-February). This penance was to bring abundant rains to flourish the paddy. These traditions and customs of ancient times gave rise to Pongal celebrations.
Andal's Tiruppavai and Manickavachakar's Tiruvembavai vividly describe the festival of Thai Niradal and the ritual of observing Pavai Nonbu. According to an inscription found in the Veeraraghava temple at Tiruvallur, the Chola King Kiluttunga used to gift lands to the temple specially for the Pongal celebrations.