Pongal is a multi-day Hindu harvest festival of South India, particularly in the Tamil community. It is observed at the start of the month Tai according to Tamil solar calendar, and this is typically about January 15. It is dedicated to the Hindu sun god,the Surya, and corresponds to Makar Sankranti, the harvest festival under many regional names celebrated throughout India. The three days of the Pongal festival are called Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal and Maattu Pongal.
According to tradition, the festival marks the end of winter solstice, and the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttaraayanam) when the sun enters the zodiac Makara (Capricorn). The festival is named after the ceremonial “Pongal”, which means “to boil, overflow” and refers to the traditional dish prepared from the new harvest of rice boiled in milk with jaggery (raw sugar). To mark the festival, the pongal sweet dish is prepared, first offered to the gods and goddesses (goddess Pongal), followed sometimes with an offering to cows, and then shared by the family. Festive celebrations include decorating cows and their horns, ritual bathing and processions. It is traditionally an occasion for decorating rice-powder based kolam artworks, offering prayers in the home, temples, getting together with family and friends, and exchanging gifts to renew social bonds of solidarity.
Pongal is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Tamil people in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in India.It is also a major Tamil festival in Sri Lanka.It is observed by the Tamil diaspora worldwide, including those in Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, Singapore, United States, United Kingdom, and Canada
Tai (தை, Thai) refers to the name of the tenth month in the Tamil calendar, while Pongal (from pongu) connotes “boiling over” or “overflow.” Pongal is also the name of a sweetened dish of rice boiled in milk and jaggery that is ritually consumed on this day.
The Pongal festival is mentioned in an inscription in the Viraraghava temple dedicated to Vishnu (Thiruvallur, Chennai). Credited to the Chola king Kulottunga I (1070-1122 CE), the inscription describes a grant of land to the temple for celebrating the annual Pongal festivities.Similarly, the 9th-century Shiva bhakti text Tiruvembavai by Manikkavachakar vividly mentions the festival.
Pongal dish made from rice in milk, with cane or white sugar.
According to Andrea Gutiérrez – a scholar of Sanskrit and Tamil traditions, the history of the Pongal dish in festive and religious context can be traced to at least the Chola period. It appears in numerous texts and inscriptions with variant spellings. In early records, it appears as ponakam, tiruponakam, ponkal and similar terms.Some of the major Hindu temple inscriptions from Chola Dynasty to Vijayanagara Empire periods include detailed recipe which are essentially the same as the pongal recipes of the modern era, but for the variations in seasonings and relative amounts of the ingredients.Further, the terms ponakam, ponkal and its prefixed variants have meant either the festive pongal dish by itself as prasadam, or the pongal dish as part of entire thali (now alankara naivedya). These were a part of the charitable grants received and served by free community kitchens in Tamil and Andhra Pradesh Hindu temples either as festival food or to pilgrims every day.
The festival’s most significant practice is the preparation of the traditional “pongal” dish. It utilizes freshly harvested rice, and is prepared by boiling it in milk and raw cane sugar (jaggery). Sometimes additional ingredients are added to the sweet dish, such as: cardamom, raisins, Green gram (split), and cashew nuts. Other ingredients include coconut and ghee (clarified butter from cow milk). Along with the sweet version of the Pongal dish, some prepare other versions such as salty and savoury (venpongal). In some communities, women take their “cooking pots to the town center, or the main square, or near a temple of their choice or simply in front of their own home” and cook together as a social event, states Gutiérrez.The cooking is done in sunlight, usually in a porch or courtyard, as the dish is dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. Relatives and friends are invited, and the standard greeting on the Pongal day typically is, “has the rice boiled”?
The cooking is done in a clay pot that is often garlanded with leaves or flowers, sometimes tied with a piece of turmeric root or marked with pattern artwork called kolam. It is either cooked at home, or in community gatherings such as in temples or village open spaces. It is the ritual dish, along with many other courses prepared from seasonal foods for all present. It is traditionally offered to the gods and goddesses first, followed sometimes by cows, then to friends and family gathered. Temples and communities organize free kitchen prepared by volunteers to all those who gather. According to Andre Bateille, this tradition is a means to renew social bonds. Portions of the sweet pongal dish (sakkara pongal) are distributed as the prasadam in Hindu temples.
According to Anthony Good, the dish and the process of its preparation is a part of the symbolism, both conceptually and materially.It celebrates the harvest, the cooking transforms the gift of agriculture into nourishment for the gods and the community on a day that Tamil’s traditionally believe marks the end of winter solstice and starts the sun god’s journey north. The blessing of abundance by Goddess Pongal (Uma, Parvati) is symbolically marked by the dish “boiling over”.