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Pongal, Tamil Nadu Overview

One of the most popular harvest festivals of South India is Pongal. It is celebrated in mid-January every year and marks the beginning of Uttarayan-sun’s journey northwards. It is mainly observed in Tamil Nadu and lasts for about four days. The literal meaning of Pongal is “spilling over”, and it is so called because of the tradition of boiling rice in a pot until it starts to spill while people show gratitude to nature during the festival. Drawing of Kolam, swinging and cooking are essential traditions of the festival.

Pongal Festival Date 2020

Wed, 15 Jan, 2020 – Sat, 18 Jan, 2020

Preparations For Pongal

Pongal Celebrations
Pongal Celebrations

Preparations begin for Pongal days in advance. Houses and courtyards are cleaned, and a new string of fresh mango leaves in hung at the front door of the house. The making of sweet rice is the essential preparation. It is cooked in a new clay pot in the open and allowed to boil and spill over. This signifies prosperity and abundance for the upcoming year. This is offered to the Sun God and partaken as Prasad.

About Pongal - Significance, Celebrations & Traditions

Pongal is a festival of gratitude and is considered extremely auspicious. The various rituals of the festival have different connotations. People pray to Lord Indra for seeking help for the farmers in getting beer yielding crops. The ceremony of Bonfire signifies “Let go of old things and let new things come in”. This carries another lesson that people should change with changing times and embrace new thoughts.

The festivities last for three days 

First Day - Bhogi Pongal
It is the day when Lord Indra is worshipped for prosperity and good harvest. People clean their homes and segregate all unwanted goods. Houses are decorated with "Kolam," i.e., floor designs in a white paste made of newly harvested rice with outlines of red mud. Pumpkin seeds are put in cow dung balls and places near the designs. Fresh harvest of turmeric, rice and sugarcane is brought from the field as preparation for the following days.
A special puja is performed before cutting the paddy. Farmers worship the earth and the sun by anointing their ploughs and nickels with sandalwood paste. It is with these tools that they cut their newly harvested rice.

Another special ritual observed on this day is Bhogi Mantalu where useless domestic articles are thrown into a pyre of wood and cow dung cakes are burnt. Girls dance around the bonfire and sing songs in praise of Lord Indra, the harvest and the spring season. The significance of this is to keep people warm in the last few days of winter before the season comes to an end.

Second Day - Surya Pongal
This day is dedicated to the worship of Surya (Sun God) and is the first day of the Tamil month Thai. On the second day of Pongal, the granaries are full, an offering of boiled milk and jaggery is made to the Sun God. A huge image of the Sun God is drawn on a plank which is placed on the ground, and Kolam designs are drawn. The pooja starts after the birth of the new month Thai and prayers are offered to the Sun God to seek his blessings. In the villages, people gather in the open and prepare Pongal together. The first offering is generally made to the Sun.

Third Day - Mattu Pongal
It is the day dedicated to the worship of cattle known as Mattu. Cattle are bathed, and their horns are polished and painted with bright colours and garlands of flowers are put around their necks. For the farmers, it is a day of thanksgiving to their cattle. Devotees too pay respect to cows by bowing before them, touching their feet and forehead. This is followed by an aarti (showing fire to the object of praise ) and offering of Pongal to the cattle. Lord Ganesha and Goddess Parvati are worshipped on this day and “Pongal” is offered to them.

Jallikattu - A Bull Festival
Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu

The Jallikattu festival is held in Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Thanjavur on the third day of Pongal. Bundles of money are tied on to the horns of the bulls which the villagers try to take. Everybody has meals together which is made of freshly harvested grain. The day is named and celebrated as Tamizhar Tirunal in Tamil Nadu.

Fourth day - Kaanum Pongal or the Thiruvallur Day.
This day is similar to Raksha Bandhan as women offer prayers for their brothers before bathing in the morning. Women of all ages gather in the courtyard of their homes and pray for the prosperity and wellbeing of their brothers with rice being placed in the centre of a leaf. People travel to meet other members of the family and pay homage to the elders. The elders bless the young ones by giving them money. Another ritual observed on this day is leaving food out on the banana leaves for the birds. The traditions associated with this day are believed to have roots in ancient Brahmanical traditions.

Pongal Festival Dish 

Sakkarai Pongal
Sweet Pongal Dish
Pongal is a rice dish that's prepared with milk, jaggery and other ingredients during the festival. Pongal is prepared differently across various households and Tamilian communities. Some of them are Ven Pongal, Rava Pongal, Sakkarai Pongal, Khara Pongal, Rice Pongal and Sweet Pongal. 

History of Pongal 

Pongal is an ancient festival of the Tamilians dating back to the Sangam Age, i.e. 200 B.C to 300 A.D. The festival has a mention in the Sanskrit Purana. A couple of legendary stories are also associated with Pongal, the most popular ones being the story of Lord Shiva and Lord Indra. According to a legend, once Lord Shiva asked Basava, his bull to go to earth and spread a message among the mortals asking them to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. However, Basava did the opposite. He asked them to oil and bathed once a month and to eat daily. This incident enraged Shiva, and he cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to help people on the earth plough their fields and produce more food. Thus, cattle is associated with Pongal.

Pongal is a festival of happiness, peace and thankfulness. The festival highlights the predominant perception of the Indian culture that God is supreme and should be the thanked for the blessings he bestows on humankind.

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