The four-day harvest festival of Pongal, is observed in the month of Thai and is being celebrated by Indians across the world, especially in Tamil Nadu. The festival celebrates the harvesting of crops including sugarcane, rice and turmeric and falls around the same time as Lohri and Makar Sankranti in mid-January each year.
It is essentially a thanksgiving festival, wherein farmers thank the nature, the Sun God and the farm animals for helping in the productions of crops, while other people thank the farmers for producing the crops. The word 'Pongal' in Tamil means to 'to boil', it is also the name of a sweet dish made out of boiled rice, moong dal, milk and jaggery, which is prepared specially to mark the harvest festival.
Tamilians usually celebrate the occasion by making delicate traditional designs known as kolams in their homes with rice powder. The kolams are made to welcome goddess Lakshmi, who is believed to bring wealth, prosperity and happiness into their households.
In Madurai, Tamil Nadu, people celebrated the occasion with high spirits. They marked the festival by making beautiful and colourful rangolis in the veranda of their houses and preparing special, lip-smacking delicacies like Pongal and offering prayers to God.
Tamil community in Dharavi, Mumbai also celebrated Pongal, by decorating their houses and temples, and cooking special dishes to mark the festival.
Pongal festivities are spread across four days and each day has its own significance. The first day of the festival is known as 'Bhogi' and is dedicated to Indra, the Rain God. On this auspicious day, people discard old and neglected things and concentrate on new things causing change or transformation. At dawn, people light a bonfire with logs of wood, other solid-fuels and wooden furniture at home that are no longer useful.
The second day of Pongal is known as 'Thai Pongal' which celebrates the Sun God. On this day, people have a morning bath and draw rangolis and kolams. This is followed by preparing special dishes to offer to the Sun. Other things which are used as an offering include sugarcane sticks, bananas and coconuts.
The third day of Pongal is known as the 'Mattu Pongal', wherein cows are decorated with garlands and bells and are worshipped. This day is celebrated to thank the farm animals for their help in the production of crops.
The last day of Pongal is the 'Kaanum' (or Kanu) Pongal, wherein the leftover Pongal dish along with betel nuts, betel leaves and sugarcane are kept in the open on a turmeric leaf. Women perform this special ritual for the prosperity of their brothers.
From surviving the cold winters to moving towards the livelier season of spring, harvest festivals like Lohri, Bihu, Pongal are celebrated in various parts of India. From eating special food to celebrating it all night with dance and bonfire the festival not only marks the beginning of an auspicious year but also brings the family together.