The harvest festival of Pongal has its unique regional significance. The festival of Pongal is celebrated all over India on the same day, but has different names in each region. However, being a harvest festival, bonfires and feasts are the main thing common to all the celebrations of this festival. Almost all the states of India celebrate this festival with varied festivities including singing and dancing. In northern India, the festival is known as Lohri while in Assam it is called Bhogali Bihu, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar it is known as Sankranti, and in Andhra Pradesh it is celebrated as Bhogi, when each household puts on display its collection of dolls. Following is the state wise regional significance of the Pongal festival.
Pongal in Maharashtra: 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.
Pongal in Gujarat: In Gujarat, Pongal day is celebrated as Makar Sankranti. Here, kite-flying is a major event for this day. 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.
Pongal in Uttar Pradesh: In Uttar Pradesh, the day of Pongal is celebrated as Makar Sankranti. Here, taking a ritual bath in the river is considered mandatory on this day. 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. Apart from this ritual bathing, donating khichri (a cooked mixture of rice and lentils) is also one of the important aspects of the Makar Sankranti celebration in Uttar Pradesh.
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.
Pongal in Andhra Pradesh: 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.
Pongal in Karnataka: In Karnataka, the festival is called '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 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.
In Karnataka, an interesting tradition is followed. After the pujas, white sesame (ellu) mixed with pieces of jaggery, peanuts, dry coconut and sugar blocks (shakkare achchu) are exchanged. 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.
Pongal in Tamil Nadu: Pongal in Tamil Nadu is celebrated to mark the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons as well as the reaping of the harvest. Pongal is strictly a rural festival. 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, Bhogi Pongal, is a day for the family. Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God. The third day, Mattupongal is for worship of the cattle. In Chennai (Madras), a rath yatra procession is taken out from the Kandaswamy Temple. In Madurai, Tanjore and Tiruchirrapalli, where Pongal is known as Jellikattu, bundles of money are tied to the horns of bulls and villagers try and wrest the bundles from them. Community meals are made from the freshly gathered harvest and enjoyed by the entire village.
Pongal in Kerala: In Kerala, on Makar Sankranti evening, 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.