Come January and it’s time to begin bidding farewell to winter. The severe cold lessens as the sun starts its journey from Dakshinayan to Uttarayan, meaning it is moving northwards. This year it occurs on 14th January and is celebrated across the country albeit in slightly different ways and by different names.
Pongal is one of the biggest festivals in Tamilnadu and Puducherry. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated over four days with much joy and gaiety. Fresh rice has been harvested and must be offered to the Gods as thanksgiving, So too the sugarcane to make the traditional jaggery. Groundnuts, turmeric, millets are all dug up and ready to be sold or consumed.
Fresh harvest of rice is used to make an offering to the Gods by specially making delicacies of a rice and lentil mix called ‘Pongal’ after the festival itself. It may be prepared salty and is called ‘Ven Pongal’ or it may be prepared sweet and called ‘Sakkarai Pongal’. This is traditionally cooked in a clay pot outside the house. It is allowed to overflow and that is the offering to the Goddess of Fire with a prayer of hope in the coming year.
Pongal is dedicated to the Sun God to thank Him for the agricultural abundance that he has provided. It begins by offering Him pongal delicacies . Then follows the temple visit and later sharing of the pongal dish.
The four days of Pongal begin with ‘Bhogi’ to honour Indra, the God of rains. On the second day is the pongal preparation and dedication to Sun God. The third day honours the cattle and is called ‘Mattu Pongal’. The animals are decorated with beads and bells and wear flower garlands round their neck. They too are fed with pongal and worshipped. They are taken around the villages adding to the festivities, the fun and frolic. The fourth day is ‘Kannum’. On this day the women of the family gather and after placing many auspicious items such as betel nuts and leaves,bananas and sugarcane, etc, in the centre,they all pray together. Both young and old participate in this ceremony where they pray for the prosperity of their family and also pray that the homes of their brothers also prosper. Aarti is also performed for the brothers.
A variation of Pongal is seen in the northern states of India such as Punjab and Haryana where it is celebrated as ‘Lohri’. Bonfires are lit and communities gather around it and sing and circumambulate the fire marking the end of the cold season and the onset of spring. Here too food items such as jaggery candies, groundnuts, popcorn,etc. are thrown into the fire as an offering to the Gods with prayers for a good harvest in the next season.
In most other states ’Makar Sankranti’ is celebrated. Gujarat celebrates with kite flying giving it a universal appeal though with a local touch. In all states it is an auspicious day and celebrated with religious fervour honouring Sun God.