India is a country of vibrant festivals; most of them heavily loaded with the spectacular flavors of its many states. And come January, the country is all set for her year-long marathon of festivals. As per the Hindu faith, 14th January of every year marks the northward journey of the Sun god which is believed to be very auspicious for the days to come. As a mark of respect to this northward journey of the Sun and more so for his bountiful blessing for the best harvest for the year, ‘Pongal’ or ‘Makar Sankranthi’ is celebrated with much élan across the country. This prominent harvest festival is known by different names across the country. It’s called Pongal in the state of Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti in the North and West of India, Lohiri in Punjab and Bihu in Assam.
While the flavors of the festival differ depending on the region, it is celebrated with more or less a similar sense of oneness, spirit and joy, all the while echoing the same message. Pongal, in Tamil Nadu, is a four-day fare, with each day tagged with a different name and social message.
Bhogi is the day to de-clutter all your unwanted accumulated pile. It’s an exhaustive method for a new beginning leaving out all disorder and confusion in life. On the previous day of Bhogi, all members of the house go on a cleaning spree and collect all the unrequired mess that has been piling up for over the year. Next day, at the break of dawn, on Bhogi, the family members get ready early to start the celebrations. “The lady member of the family draws the ‘Kolam’ (the intricate floral drawings), with rice flour paste on the patio of the home and that’s the first of the celebration,” says Soumya, a marketing professional, in Detroit. “After we draw the ’Kolam’, we light a huge bonfire outside our house and throw the litter we collected the previous day into the raging fire” continues Soumya. On this first day of the harvest festival, Lord Indra, the God of Rains and Clouds is worshipped to seek his blessings for a copious amount of good reap for the year. The farming equipment is also kept for puja.
Day2 Surya Pongal
On Surya Pongal, the universal light giver and Mother Nature are given utmost importance. “On this day we pray to the Sun God” says Priya Hariharan, a homemaker from Trivandrum.“As per age-old customs, we cook rice and moong dal in a brass pot decorated with turmeric plant leaves and keep sugarcane sticks on the side. We also smear small round dots of turmeric on the outside of the pot. We first boil rice and dal in boiling water and milk. The water and milk has to boil well and overflow the pot. And it is at this time we pray to Lord Surya and shout out “Pongalo Pongal”.We then add the required quantity of jaggery and ghee and cook the rice porridge on low flame until it is very nicely done” says Priya. This very sweet and rich rice porridge is first offered to the Sun God before the family members eat it along with the traditional Tamil cuisine spread. The underlying yet significant message of the celebration on this day is that no life is possible on Earth without the radiant Sun Rays and the lush Mother Nature.
There are several varieties of rice used for cooking the traditional Pongal porridge. Kichadi Samba, Thooyamali, Mappilai Samba, Seeraga Samba, Illupai Poo Sampa and Poongar are some of the most popular of them. With the organic farming drive back in action, there is an increased demand for the cultivation of these varieties of rice. Many farmers feel that growing such traditional varieties of rice without using harmful chemicals is the best legacy they can pass on to the next generation.
Day3 Mattu Pongal
Mattu Pongal is the day to honor domestic farm animals for their assistance in agriculture activities. The animals are bathed and garlanded with flowers and bells. The animals are then worshipped for their substantial support in agriculture activities. They are also fed Sarkarai Pongal. And the day closes with the message that domestic animals are an effective part of our daily living and we should indeed show our gratitude for their contributions to our daily existence.
Day4 Kaanum Pongal
On Kaanum Pongal people go out to visit friends and relatives- a much-required break from their busy schedules. It’s a socializing of sorts to expressively underlay the fact that human beings require social and cultural coexistence. ‘Kaanum’ in Tamil means to see and you head out to see your friends and relatives and rejoice with them.
And so this year and for the years to come let’s honor our Mother Nature and her limitless blessings and move away from gadget-aided- technology that’s really taking all our lives on a roller coaster ride, leaving us with a lot of bumps and humps. Let’s join together to get back to those age-old holistic customs which surely promised a healthier life than what we have now.