Pongal 2018: Date, significance and history of the Tamil harvest festival

Among all the festivals celebrated in India, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, like Lohri in Punjab and Makar Sankranti in Bihar and Jharkhand, is one of the most famous harvest festivals. The 4-day festival, celebrated across the globe wherever there is an Indian diaspora, starts on January 14 this year. It is also the name of a dish devotees prepare as part of their celebrations.

Pongal celebrations go back around 2,000 years and records suggest it was also celebrated during the time of the Chola Empire (9th-13th century). The first first harvest festival of the year, it is also referred to as Thai Pongal: Since it falls during the Tamil month of Thai which is when the sun travels northward towards the equinox, marking the beginning of summer months.

Indian traditional kolam or rangoli is drawn using white colored rice during Pongal.
(Shutterstock)

On this day, devotees thank the sun god for their crop, and pray for a bumper harvest the next year. Tamil Nadu is a rice growing state, and Pongal’s translation means ‘boiling over.’ On the day of the festival, rice is boiled and given as an offering to the sun god. On the day of the festival, Tamilians prepare a special dish with the same name — it is sweet and prepared by boiling rice and lentils. After being offered to the sun god, all the family members enjoy the dish.

The festival lasts for 4 days and there are separate rituals for each day. On the first day, prayers are offered to the rain god and some cases people also light a bonfire and put items into it. This happens during the evening and there is also song and dance around the bonfire. The second day comprises of prayers to the sun god. Rice is boiled in an earthen pot and people dress in the traditional attire. On the third day, there is cow worship during which people put garlands on cows and take blessings from them.

On the day of the festival, rice is boiled and given as an offering to the sun god.
(Shutterstock)

The last day is dedicated to the welfare of the home and the rituals which are performed by the women in the family. A turmeric leaf is washed and put on the ground after which rice and other eatables are placed on it. Women perform an aarti using turmeric water and pray for the prosperity of their brothers and husbands.

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