Enchanting fragrance of spices, aroma of freshly harvested paddy, sweet scent of sugarcane, beautifully garnished ‘Pongal’ – a sweet prepared with rice, Kaleidoscopic rangolis (decorations made in the entrance of houses), and richly adorned cattle mesmerize our senses when we visit any village in Tamil Nadu, during middle of January. All these fascinating spectacles are a part of the ‘Harvest Festival’, Pongal.
India, being an agricultural country, has festivals that are closely related to nature and agricultural activities. Pongal is the most famous festival among them.
Pongal is a festival of ‘thanksgiving’ to Mother Nature and Sun. Usually, during January-February months; first crops of rice, cereals, sugar-cane and several spices are harvested. This harvest is offered with reverence to Almighty, wishing for a fruitful year.
The celebrations last for four days, Bhogi, Pongal (Makara Sankranthi), Mattu Pongal and Kannum Pongal. Bhogi is celebrated in the honour of Lord Indra, who is the ruler of clouds. Also on the day of Bhogi, a ritual of making a bon-fire with useless articles is observed. Nowadays, practice of making bon-fire has been reducing in order to protect the environment.
On the second day, Pongal – a sweet dish is prepared in a bronze or clay pot, with a turmeric plant tied around the pot. This ritual takes place outdoors. Pongal is offered to Sun God with prayers. On the third day, Mattu Pongal, cattle are decorated and taken in procession. On the last day, Kanum pongal, women honour and pray for men in their family. On this day, people go for a short trip to scenic places and enjoy their outing. On all the four days, numerous delicious dishes are prepared and people get dressed up in traditional attire.
Several sports like Jallikattu – one of the ancient sports where participants attempt to tame ferocious bulls, Silambattam – an age old martial art where opponents fight with long sticks, Kai Kuttu sandai – a sport like boxing where opponents fight with bare hands without using any weapon, Uriyadi – a sport where participants try to break a decorated pot hung on a bar, with a stick while crowd attempt to thaw them are organized in rural Tamil Nadu. Most of the villagers take part in these sports with vigor and enjoy immensely.
Though Pongal is celebrated in all places, in villages this festival is celebrated with more merriment, fun and frolic. Festivals like Pongal promote unity and show-case the rich cultural heritage of India.