Pongal – The Harvest Festival
For many Hindus, the beginning of every new year brings the celebration of the Sun God, known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Makara Sankranti in other regions of the country. Pongal marks the beginning of the harvest season. It also signifies the transition of the Sun from one zodiac sign to the other. As agriculture serves as a major backbone to several parts of the country, the harvest festival is celebrated in different regions in different ways.
Makara Sankranti refers to the migration of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn. This day brings the end of the winter season; hence the significance to the harvesting of crops. Pongal which means ‘boiling over’ , as exemplified by the boiling over of milk in a pot, symbolises abundance and prosperity. This festival is one of the few Hindu festivals that occur every year around the same dates of 13th, 14th and 15th January.
Pongal is celebrated as a four-day festival. The first day is called Bhogi. On this day, people wake up at dawn and light bonfires by discarding and burning old items. This signifies the end of the old things and fresh beginnings. The main festival, known as Thai Pongal or Sankranti is celebrated with a lot of fervour. The traditional dish ‘rice pongal’ is cooked and offered to the Sun God. Colourful rangoli or Kolams, are drawn in front of the houses. In states like Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, flying kites is a favourite activity during this time. Skies are literally dotted with hundreds of these colourful kites. Pongal is also celebrated as Lohri in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and as Magh Bihu in Assam.
The third day is known as Maatu Pongal. On this day, people worship cattle as they are considered auspicious as well as essential to farming. Cows are decorated and fed. The last day of the festival serves as a time to meet friends and relatives. People take this festival as an opportunity to thank the Sun God for blessing them with a rich harvest and also pray for an abundant crop in the days to come.