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India is an agrarian country, that gives prominence to the food seasons and their accompanying events. Across the nation, one finds various festivals related to farming and agriculture. Pongal is the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu, which has a resemblance to many harvest festivals in India. It is a four-day event with people offering the Pongal meal to the worshipping deity, the red giant, the Sun God. It commonly occurs in the midst of January.

During the main event, people of all ages engage in farm duties to reap the fields. They offer cooked rice as an offering to God, to show their gratitude for bringing the harvest festival again to their land. It is cooked in the threshold of the house or in an open place and is considered inauspicious if it is made in the insides of the kitchen. The offerings to Almighty is the Pongal dish and thus, the festival derives its name from it, which also means boiling in Tamil.

The mythological roots of the festival can be found in Puranas where Lord Shiva directs the people to bathe with oil every day and eat food once a month, but the message was distorted by Basava who reverse the order of the action. He instructs to have a meal every day and to bathe every two fortnights, which infuriated the Lord. The ire resulted in cursing Basava to spend the rest of their life on earth to increase food production.

The four-day festival is celebrated with glee and gratefulness. The first day is the Bhogi Pongal where the houses are cleaned and the waste burned with wood and cow dung. Women also indulge in dancing around the bonfire. People decorate their pots with the swastika symbols and vermillion during the initial day celebration. Lord Indra, God of clouds is worshipped for bringing rain for their crops. The subsequent day is Surya Pongal where Pongal is cooked and offered to Sun God. It is made in an earthen pot by the eldest member of the family. The third day is called Mattu Pongal where the animals, specifically cattle is worshipped for their aid in farming activities. Cows are adorned with flowers, bells and colourful paint to acknowledge their valuable part in planting and harvesting crops. They provide milk and manure that nourish the farmlands. The finale is Kaanum Pongal, where all the members of the friends and family gather to feast and enjoy the festival. They take blessings from elder people and shower love on younger ones with personalized gifts and sweets. This day also marks the women wishing their brothers good and fulfilled life by performing the custom of aarti with limestone and oil.

Pongal is a farmers’ festival celebrated to thank God for a good harvest. It stands for prosperity and forms the base for renewing and conserving energy until the next harvest season. It is a joyous occasion and brings the community together and onward. Pongal unites man and nature by worshipping, sun, plants and animals. It idealises humanity and our need to root in nature.


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