Today is Thai Pongal:
Festival dedicated to the Sun God
Thai Pongal is an important festival to Hindu Tamils all over the
The celebrations are believed to have started from very ancient times
when people stopped being hunter gatherers or nomads and settled down as
cultivators. It is an annual event of which the main concept is
thanksgiving to the Sun, the cattle, other natural elements and the
gods. The concept of the celebration is known to various farming
communities across diverse regions and communities.
The celebration has special significance to Sri Lankan Hindus,
especially to the Hindu Tamils of the North and the East, because they
are now celebrating it in an atmosphere of peace and harmony for the
third successive year after the end of three-decades long unrest and
Virtually all irrigation tanks in the North and the East have been
renovated or rehabilitated since the end of terrorism and every acre of
arable land has been brought under cultivation, heralding bountiful
harvests and prosperity to the local communities.
This time around, a large number of Hindu families of the North and
the East will be celebrating the festival in its true spirit, i.e.
making the Pongal out of their own paddy harvest and dedicating it to
the Sun, the gods, the cattle and other natural elements. People of the
plantations have always celebrated the festival zealously, in keeping
with the tradition of their ancestors.
Thai Pongal is timed by an astronomical event - the winter solstice.
Pongal is traditionally dedicated to the Sun God, 'Surya' and marks the
beginning of the northward journey of the Sun from its
southernmostlimit, a movement traditionally referred to as
It coincides with the festival Makara Sankranthi celebrated
throughout India as the winter harvest and is usually held from January
13–15 , from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day
of the month Thai.
It also represents the Indian solstice when the sun purportedly
enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Makaram or Capricorn. Thai
Pongal is a day of triple celebrations, the beginning of
'uttaranarayanam', 'Mahara-Sangaranthi' and the 'Pongal'. It marks a
period of plenty, peace and happiness. The saying "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi
Pirakkum" meaning " the dawn of Thai heralds prosperity " is often
quoted in relation to the festival.
Tamils thank the solar deity for the good harvest and consecrate the
first grain to him on this 'Surya Mangalyam'. Tamils decorate their
homes with banana trees and mango leaves and embellish the floor with
decorative patterns drawn using rice flour.
They also use sugarcane for the celebrations.
Besides rice and lentils, the ingredients of the sweet Pongal dish
include cardamom, jaggery and cashew nuts. Cooking is done in the
sunlight, usually in a porch or courtyard, as the dish is dedicated to
the Sun God. The cooking is done in a clay pot which is decorated with
coloured patterns. There are two versions of Pongal, one sweet the other
salted. The prepared dish is served on banana leaves. Apart from Pongal
Day celebrations, cooking Pongal rice (community Pongal) is a
traditional practice at Hindu temples.
The Pongal should ideally be boiling by the time the Sun rises in the
sky; an offering to the Sun in recognition of its importance to farmers.
A pot spilling over with its contents is considered a sign of abundance
and prosperity. So, first the milk heating in the pot and then the rice
dish made in it are allowed to boil over (Pongal virtually means boiling
over). The moment the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the
tradition is to shout "Pongalo Pongal!", introduce freshly harvested
rice grains into the pot and blow the conch shell.
In the pre-dawn air, family members gather to make the pongal and
pray together in thanksgiving and hope for yet another bountiful year.
Cow's milk or coconut milk is poured into the pot and once it boils
over, the head of the family, ceremonially and solemnly pours in the
rice grains from his cupped palms. The rest of the family follows suit
until the required amount of rice has been put in and then the dish is
sweetened with sugarcane juice, jaggery, raisins and cashew nuts.
When it is ready it is heaped onto a freshly cut banana leaf
(stemming from the time when the Tamils traditionally used banana leaves
as plates) along with fruits and other savouries and offered to the Sun.
It is then offered as Prasad or consecrated food to members of the
family, friends and neighbours.
All Hindu Tamils celebrate the event irrespective of whether they are
farmers or otherwise and, overall, it is a festival to encourage social
cohesiveness and unites people by bringing them together in a common
function. There are many songs in Tamil literature about Thai Pongal.
While the main festival of Thai Pongal is celebrated everywhere by
Hindu Tamils, the second day of the festival is celebrated as 'Mattu
Pongal' meaning 'Pongal for the Cattle'.
From the production of milk and manure, to the ploughing of fields
and drawing carts to take the produce to the warehouse or market, cattle
are of vital importance to the farmer and their services are recognised
on this day. They are bathed, garlanded and ornamented with trinkets.
They are even worshipped and generally extensively pampered and petted.
The Pongal made on this day is dedicated solely to them and they get
the first offering as well as fruits and sugarcane.
Every year, Tamils usher in the Thai Pongal as the dawn of new