12 January 2011

The Harvest Festival called PONGAL

"PONGAL".....the Harvest Festival is nearing ......and I am sure you will find this posting of mine interesting and useful.

This year,  Pongal falls on 15th January 2011. 

The 4 Days of Pongal are –

Bhogi Festival
Surya Pongal also known as Thai Pongal or Perum Pongal
Mattu Pongal
Kaanum Pongal
Bhogi Festival is on 14th January, Thai Pongal on 15th January, Mattu Pongal on 16th January and Kaanum Pongal on 17th January 2011.
Pongal Festival
Thai Pongal  is a harvest festival celebrated by Tamils in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in Srilanka. Pongal coincides with the festival Makara Sankranthi celebrated throughout India. Pongal in Tamil means "boiling over or spill over." The boiling over of milk in the clay pot symbolizes material abundance for the household. Thai Pongal, celebrated at harvest time is traditionally intended to thank the Sun God and farmstead livestock that helped create the material abundance.

The saying "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum" [தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும்] meaning "the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities" is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival. The festival usually occurs from January 13 --15 in the Gregorian Calendar i.e. the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi  to the third day of Thai.

Pongal is traditionally dedicated to the Sun God Surya. Tamils thank the solar deity for the good harvest and consecrate the first grain to him on this 'Surya Mangalya'.
The festival denotes the start of the Tamil month of Thai [தை]. It marks the day when the Sun purportedly shifts northwards. It signifies the commencement of Uttarayana which represents the northward journey of Sun. The days get longer in the Tamil lands. Thai Pongal falls on Makara Sankranthi  celebrated throughout India as the winter harvest. This also represents the Indic solstice when the sun purportedly enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac i.e. Makara or Capricorn.
The holiday may well be 1000 years old although some are of the view that the festival is older. Epigraphic evidence suggests the celebration of the Puthiyeedu during the Medievel Chola Empire days. It is thought that Puthiyeedu meant the first harvest of the year.  The Sangam era literary work, the Paripaadal, refers to a fast by unmarried girls in honor of the God Vishnu in the month of Thai, known as the Thai Nonpu. The link between that fast and today's harvest festival needs to be further researched.Tamils  refer to Pongal as "Tamizhar Thirunal" [meaning "the festival of Tamils"] Makara Sankranti in turn is referred to in the Surya Siddhanta. 
The Sun stands for “Pratyaksha Brahman” - the manifest God, who symbolizes the one, non-dual, self-effulgent, glorious divinity blessing one and all tirelessly. The Sun is the one who transcends time and also the one who rotates the proverbial wheel of time.

The First Day of Pongal - Bhogi
The day preceding Pongal in Tamil Nadu is called Bhogi when people discard old things and focus on new belongings[பழையன கழிதலும் புதியன புகுதலும்]. The disposal of derelict things is similar to Holika in North India. 

Bhogi Festival

Celebrating Bhogi
The people assemble at dawn in Tamil Nadu and light a bonfire to discard old used possessions. The house is cleaned, painted and decorated to give a festive look.  
On Bhogi Day Poli, Vadai and Payasam are offered to God as Neivedyam. 

The Second Day - Thai Pongal
Pongal Pandigai [பொங்கல் பண்டிகை]
Pongal itself falls on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai [January 14th or 15th].  It is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots. The rice is later topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins. This tradition gives Pongal its name
The rice is traditionally cooked at sun rise.
"Ponggalo Pongal......."
The moment the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of "Ponggalo Ponggal!", introduce freshly harvested rice grains in the pot and blow the sangu [a conch] Tamils consider it a good sign to watch the milk boil over as it connotes good luck and prosperity. The newly cooked rice is traditionally offered to the Sun God at sunrise to demonstrate gratitude for the harvest. It is later served to the people present in the house for the ceremony. People prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, payasam etc visit each other and exchange greetings.

The Third Day - Mattu Pongal/Kanu Ponal
Mattu Pongal / Kanu Pongal  [மாட்டுப்பொங்கல் / கனுப்பொங்கல்]
Cattle play in important role in the traditional Indian farmstead be it with regards to the provision of dairy products, its use for ploughing and transport and its provision of fertilizer. This explains the Vedic reference to cattle as wealth. Cows and Bulls are decorated with paint and bells and people pray to them.  

The Tail portion of the Cow is most Sacred to Hindus
The cattle are decorated with bells on their neck and kumkum placed on their head.  It is of course customary to pay respects to them by bending down and touching its' feet and forehead and arthi is taken followed by offering  food to the cattle like like pongal, Bananas as "Prasadam"
Due Respect is given to Cows on Mattu Pongal
Cattle being fed on Mattu Pongal

Joyous Ocassion on Mattu Pongal
On this day of Mattu Pongal, cattle are felicitated. In rural Tamil Nadu, adventurous games such as the Jallikkattu or taming the wild bull are features of the day. Mattu Pongal is intended to demonstrate our recognition and affection to cattle and decorate them with garlands, apply kungumam [kumkum] on their foreheads and feed them good food.
Mattu pongal is very famous especially in  Alanganallur "Jallikattu". 
Jallikattu on Mattu Pongal Day
Mattu pongal is intended to honor the cattle that worked hard throughout the year. The farm bulls are given a bath, their horns painted and adorned with new sarees in some places. In Alanganallur, bulls are set free in a ground where youth who hold on its hump until the victory line are considered victorious. The bulls [and public] suffered injury during this game which led to animal activists taking the matter to the Supreme Court of India which imposed a ban on the tradition.  After an undertaking was given from the Government of Tamil Nadu to ensure that animals were not harmed, the apex court lifted its ban with certain conditions. In Alanganallur which is located 17 km Northwest of Madurai Jallikattu is conducted with enthusiasm.

Kanu pidi....
Kanu Pidi [கனுப்பொங்கல்] is a tradition that the ladies and young girls of the house follow. Women feed birds and pray for the well being of their brothers. On this day, the turmeric from the pots is applied on the foreheads of female family members by the elders.
  • After new year the immediate Hindu festival is Boghi and pongal. But yet there is one more special occasion that is celebrated by all brahmins which is Kanu Pandigai[Kanu Pongal]. Kanu falls on the same day of Maatu Pongal. On this special Occasion, sisters in the family will pray for the welfare of their brothers. This is special festival for ladies.

Early in the morning, elders take the turmeric and will mark it in the forehead for all the ladies in the house and it is customary for young girls to seek blessings from the elders. In a open place a kolamis drawn in the east direction.  The turmeric leaves are washed and placed  over the kolam

The Kakkai Chatham or "Kanu podi Vaipathu" as offering, is done in different styles in different families. We make curds rice the previous evening by mixing the rice offered toSurya Bhagawan in the morning and curds. On Kanu day, we make 7 small balls each consisiting of the rice and keep them on a piece of Manjal Kothu  leaf bought the previous day,  make small balls of curd rice, few balls of the previous day's Sarkkarai pongal , balls of rice mixed with turmeric powder, andthen  Kumkum, 1 plantain into 7 samll pieces, Karumbu in seven bits, 7 balls of 7 thaan Kuzhambu made on the previous day for pongal. After we keep this "Kanu Podi" in the early hours of the morning, we should make pray to God for the well-being and close bonding of ones brothers and sisters to last for ever and be happy.  

Kannu Pidi

We should pray and say these words after keeping this "Kanu pidi" on the leaves....

"Kakka-p-pidi Vaithen, Kanu-p-pidi vaithen, Kakkaiykkum Kurivikkum Kalyanam". "Kakka-p-pidi vaithen, kanu-p-pidi vaithen, kakka-k-kootam pole enga koottamum kalayaama irukkanum."
காக்கா பிடி வைத்தேன், கனு பிடி வைத்தேன், காக்காய்க்கும் குருவிக்கும் கல்யாணம் காக்கா பிடி வைத்தேன், கனு பிடி வைத்தேன், காக்காய்க்கூட்டம் போல எங்கள் கூட்டம் கலயாமல் இருக்கனும்".

After chanting this we have to break a coconut, place it in a plate having beetle leaves and beetle seeds along with 2 bananas.  We also have to do "neivethyam" round the turmeric leaves and we should pray for our brothers.

We have to make sure the rice kept in leaves should be eaten only by crow and not by any other animals. On this auspicious occasion brahmins will prepare variety rice and ladies should not eat rasam
Women offer prayers in the hope that the brother-sister ties may remain forever strong like the family of crows.  

It is thus,  on this day, some observe the bonds between brothers and sisters.  it is on this day that sisters and brothers meet and sisters show affection and respect to their brothers by presenting gifts and doing aarti and/or placing kumkum on their forehead and prostrating and touching their feet. Brothers usually respond in kind by offering a gift of clothing or other useful item his sister would appreciate. "This is the day when mixed rices preparations; puliyodharai, Yelumichampazham  saadham, thengai saadham, thayir saadham are cooked. It is a day for picnics on the banks of the river that brings water to the paddy lands. Traditionally rasam is not cooked on the day of Kanu, as the food served this day are picnic dishes and finger food. The story behind this tradition is as follows:  
.....It is said that Lord Shiva commanded bull Nandi to go to earth and tell his devotees to have oil bath everyday and eat food twice a week.  Nandhi ixed up the message and asked the people to have an oil bath twice a week and eat everyday. An irate Shiva commanded Nandi to remain on earth and help man plough his fields so that food would be available everyday.

Kaanum Pongal[காணும் பொங்கல்]
This is a time for family reunions in Tamil Nadu. Brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as affirmation of their filial love. Landlords present gifts of food, clothes and money to their workforce. During Kaanum Pongal [the word kaanum means "to view"], people visit relatives and friends to enjoy the festive season. 

Kaanum Pongal in Villages
In the cities this day is synonymous with people flocking to beaches and theme parks to have a day out with their families. They also chew sugar cane and decorate their houses with Kolam. This day is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. Although it started as a farmers festival, today it has become a national festival for all Tamils irrespective of their origins, caste or even religion. It is as popular in urban areas as is in rural areas.

Kaanum Pongal Crowd
Movies Theaters, Zoos, Parks, Tourist destinations, wildlife sanctuaries, beaches, especially the Marina Beach in Chennai, witness heavy rush on Kaanum Pongal.

Crowd at Vandaloor Zoo on Kaanum Pongal
Kannum Pongal at the Beach
One of the most important events on the day is the visit to the banks of Kaveri River. Many people pack their lunch and a have a picnic lunch on the riverbank. In many places special prayers are offered to Mother Kaveri.

Kollattam Dance
Pongal Festival Dance
In certain parts of rural Tamil Nadu, people use the opportunity provided by Kaanum Pongal to perform the ritual ‘Kummippatu’ or ‘kumi patu.’ and some traditional dances like  "Kolattam".  This is a ritual performed for the speedy marriage of girls whose marriages are unduly delayed. The girl whose marriage is delayed is made to sit in the center of a circle formed by women dancing to the tune of ‘Kummi pattu.’ 

Thiruvalluvar Statue
The Tamils also remember the poet Tiruvalluvar, who was born on this. The last day is Kaanum Pongal. It is that part of the festival when families used to gather on the riverbanks and have a sumptuous meal.   In recent years, that day is celebrated as Uzhavar Tirunal in honor of farmers.

On this auspicious day of Pongal, since it is customary to decorate one's  entrance of the house with Kolams - here is a brief writing on Kolams and their significance.

Kolams for Pongal
Kolams are a symbol of auspiciousness.  Kolams are thought to bestow prosperity to homes.  It is a sign of invitation to welcome all into the home, not the least of whom is Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity. The patterns range between geometric and mathematical line drawings around a matrix of dots to free form art work and closed shapes.

Kolam in Front of House
Traditionally, the women wash the path in front of the house.   [Cowdung is used to clean up the ground, though this practise is no longer in vogue in the cities, mainly because cowdung is not easily available & most entrance path are now laid in cement or tiles].  Finely ground rice powder is then used to apply kolams.  This practice is followed in the evenings also. 

It used to be a matter of pride to be able to draw large complicated patterns without lifting the hand off the floor standing up in between. The month of Margazhi was eagerly awaited by young women, who would then showcase their skills by covering the entire width of the road with one big kolam.

Traditional Arisi Maavu Kolam
There are several types of kolam designs.  There are line kolams, where there is the free hand drawing of lines to make a geometrical pattern. 
Powdered white stone [வெங்கசங்கள் பொடி / மொக்குமாவு] was used for Kolam.
Seasonal messages like "Welcome"  or நல்வரவு" is used in Kolam.
Traditional Kavi Kolam

Another traditional Kavi Kolam
Thamirai Poo Kolam
For special occasions limestone and red brick powder to contrast are also used. Though kolams are usually done with dry rice flour, for longevity, dilute rice paste or even paints are also used. Modern interpretations have accommodated chalk, and more recently vinyl stickers and of course not to mention the colourful Rangoli kolams now very much in vogue.  
Here is a collection of some of the Kolams taken during the Pongal Festivals in and around the City......

Sundaram Finance- Kolam Festival-Mylapore

Glance of Kolam Festival

Dotted Kolams
Rangoli Kolam

Rangoli Pattern Kolam
At the Hindu Fest Kolam Festival -Kolam in front of a house

Artistic Design of Kolam

Chariot- Kalasam Kolam 
The Prize-winning Kolam-Mylapore Festival

Kolams in Floral Designs

A Festival Entry Kolam artistically drawn
Festival Kolams

Wishes for Pongal Kolams

"Hope this festival marks the beginning of a harvest season, that is happy and cheerful and one which brings with it good luck and prosperity for always. Greetings on Pongal"

With this, my posting on Pongal----the Harvest Festival comes to a close.....see you soon with the next event!

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