PONGAL IS UNDOUBTEDLY THE MOST IMPORTANT FESTIVAL Celebrated by Tamilians. This is a harvest festival honouring the sun god and the god of rain, Indra. Pongal represents a kind of thanksgiving for the plentiful paddy crop that the farmer has harvested during the mild winter monthsin the south of India. (Pongal literally means 'boiling over'; symbolically the boiling over of bounteous crops in the fields.) The festival is normally celebrated over a period of four days. The festival always starts on 13 January every year and coincides with Lohri of Punjab and Goopi of Andhra Pradesh. The calculations are done according to the solar calendar, therefore, the dates do not change.
Since the same is the case with Lohri, Maker Sankranti and Goopi, these festivals will always coincide. The actual day of Pongal celebration is 14 January. It is considered a very auspicious time when the sun enters the 'Makar Rasi' ( northern hemisphere). The sun moves from the Tropic of Capricorn towards the Equator and then towards the Tropic of Cancer. This period beginning from 14 January lasts till 14 July and is known as 'Uttarayan'. Bhishma Pitamah, the grand sire of Mahabharata, in fact, waited on his bed of arrows in the open battlefield of Kurukshetra for Uttarayan in order to free his soul from mortal boudage and attain moksha.
Although Pongal festivities normally last for four days, some households celebrate it for three days only. There may be a sight difference in the rituals and rites between Brahmin households and the other castes.Nevertheless, all farmers intermingle with other members of the neighouring families. Each farmer contributes his share,
in one way or the other, during the six months preceding the festival, called the period of 'Dakshinayan'. This is the time for sowing of seeds and saplings and also for cultivating short-term crops. A rich and abundant harvest of paddy and other crops is dependent on a required quantity of rainfall at the right time, as rivers in Tamil Nadu are not perennial. Consequently, the Sun God and Indra are devoutly worshipped.
A few days prior to the Pongal festival, every house is cleaned, whitewashed and dusted. All broken or dented utensils are exchanged for new ones. The chattaies (mats) on which people normally sleep(on the floor0, get frayed and decay as they are made from reeds. They are replaced by new ones, which are neatly stacked in corners. Rugs are taken out and beaten with sticks to get the dust out, or they are drycleaned or washed at home. The housesin South India are generally kept spotlessly clean, with the minimum of furniture. Everyone takes off his or her footwear before entering a home, therefore ensuring complete cleanliness inside. The utensils in the kitchen are usually made of steel. Some times they are made of brass . They are kept regularly shining by the house wife, therefore, thereis not so much cleaning required as in the north during Diwali,When summer gives way to winter.During summer the heat and the duststorms,which seems to constantly penetrate every corner,leave behind a lot of dust that needs to clean up.Still in the south ,there is much to do and a house wife must provision for all the expenses that become unavoidable.The modern house wife can go in for new things ,more in keeping with cosmopolitan way of life.New cloths for festival are an Indian heritage and shops go all out to lure the customer before and during Pongal. The temptation for new sarees for women a new langha and half saree (Known as dhavini) for the young girl and lungi and angavastram. The wise house wife should be well aware of family's enthusiasim for wearing new cloths,which becomes the main topic of con versation before thew festival.
The first (Bhogi pandigai): This day is dedicated to Indra, who is one to bestow the much needed rain. Indra is also called 'Bhogi',i.e.,one who enjoys the good things of life.
The faithful believes that on this day Lord Krishna, who got annoyed with the erratic ways of Indra, directed the people not to pray to him but to lord Naryan who was, infact, Krishna himself. Indra lost his temper at this insult and sent down the rains intorrents.
The people got scared and looked towards Krishna for succour.Krishna then lifted up the great Goverdhan mountain on one finger and provided shelter to human being,animals and beast who gathered beneath these montains .Every one sang Krishna's praise and Indra realised that he could never get the better of Krishna,who was the reincarnation of Vishnu the protector.Indra apologized profusely and asked for forgiveness,but pleaded that he be also prayed to sins, in any case , he had always looked after the beings on earth as well.Krishna relented.
On Bhogi day everyone at home-old and young- rises early and has an oil bath; usually til oil is rubbed onto all parts of the body, including the head, which results in a satisfying massage, ensuring good blood circulation. The children dance round the bonfire, beating the drums specially made for this occasion, thus fulfilling their desire for making a noise and indulging in fun and frolic. Such a spontaneous release of pent-up energy helps throughout the year in curbing the children's natural desire for wild behaviour and creating a racket by promising them complete freedom on the first day of Pongal. A time for children to look forward to! Everyone enjoys the warmth of the fire. This is the last day of the month of 'Maargazhi', the ninth month of lunar calendar. This month is considered very scared. According to to Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna manifests himself the most during this month, beginning, according to the English calendar, on 13 December and ending on 13 January.
The housewife will be well advised to make arrangements to keep the following items ready for the actual day of Pongal:
- Sandalwood paste.
- Kumkum (vermilion)
- Mango leaves and saplings.
- Coconut fronds.
- Sugarcane leaves and saplings.
- Banana leaves and plants.