Thai Pongal, regarded as one of the most important Hindu festivals takes place on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai.
Generally, the day is celebrated as a day of thanksgiving to the Sun God who provides energy, strength and light for the paddy cultivation. Rice is considered the staple food in many parts of the world including Sri Lanka. It is considered as a famers’ thanksgiving known as ‘Ullavar Thirunal’. ‘Ullavar’ means famers and ‘Thirunal’ means auspicious day. Thai Pongal day is known by different names in Indian States -Makar Sankranthi, Uttarayan, Maghi, Sankranthi or Pough.
Many Indian states refer to the day as Makar Sankranthi or Makara Sankranthi as in the Zodiac calendar the Sun God enters into Makar Rasi (Capricorn) on this day. According to the Zodiac calendar, there are 12 signs generally called 12 Rasis. Normally the event takes place on the 14th of January, except in leap years when it takes place on the 15th. This year the Pongal festival falls on January 15.
The festival is known as Thai Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The famers make two varieties of Pongal rice, one the non-sweet pongal prepared with cows’ milk and coconut milk and the sweet pongal rice made out of fresh jaggery, coconut milk, cows milk, ghee, honey and numerous other ingredients and offered to the Sun God as a thank offering.
Farmers prepare the pongal out of their newly harvested rice. Traditionally, people use new clay pots for cooking the pongal and cook it outside their houses to face the Son God directly. They decorate the neck of the pot with ginger, turmeric leaves and fresh mango leaves. It is the auspicious symbol for houses, progress and prosperity for the year.
The following day is known as Mattu Pongal or Patti Pongal – the Pongal for cattle. The cattle are bathed and decorated from the day of ploughing the land till the end of the harvest. It is a way of expressing gratitude to the cattle which helped them in numerous ways for the paddy cultivation.
Mattu Pongal is followed by Kanuma Pongal, when people visit their friends and relations to exchange greetings and presents.
(The Sunday Times)