Pongal or Sankranthi as we call it, is the harvest festival of South India.It signifies the bountiful harvest and rice boiling over to symbolize prosperity.It comes in mid January in the auspicious month of ‘Thai’ and is a four day festival comprising of -
Pongal is a festival to thank the elements and the farm animals for the bounty in harvest.The first day is Boghi festival where the house is cleaned and all unwanted things are gathered and and kept aside.The house is washed and kolam[drawing in rice flour on the floor] is drawn.
Indra,the Lord of rain is worshiped.The agricultural implements like the plough,sickle are anointed with sandal paste and saffron and these sickles are used to harvest the rice.In the evening the waste household articles and the agriculture waste are burnt in a bonfire along with cow-dung cakes and wood.
The second day is called ulzhavar thirunal and also surya pongal.Surya,the sun god is thanked for bestowing a plentiful harvest.On this day,the newly harvested rice is cooked on clay pots and allowed to overflow.There are shouts of 'Pongal-o-Pongal',meaning 'Let all the goodness overflow'
On the third day,cattle are bathed, their horns polished and painted in bright colours, and garlands of flowers placed around their necks. They are being thanked for helping the farmers in agriculture.
After the three day festivity the final day is kaanum pongal where relatives visit each others home.In some parts it is celebrated as kanya pongal and also the sisters pray for their brothers’ well being.
On all these days delicious recipes are prepared.The important ones being Ven pongal[savory ] and the Sakkarai pongal[sweet].Apart from this paruppu vadai[lentil fritters] and sometimes payasam/kheer is also prepared and served.Each household has a set of recipes that will be prepared on these days.
As with all other festivals, this one too has carved a special place in my mind and the events are evergreen.
During my childhood, I used to visit my grandparents and stay with them during the winter holidays.At that time the place where he lived was a sort of 'rural' and I would feel so bored to be there by myself. Yet I loved to go there mainly for all the pampering.
I could do what I want-meaning sleep late, wake up late,and of course,laze around! Plus the bonus of being fed with delicious meal lovingly prepared by grandma. At that time my great grandma,who was in her late 80's was staying with my grandparents and she used to tell me stories about her childhood and events that took place during that time.They were really so interesting and sometimes seemed so funny.I just loved to hear her talk.
Just before the pongal festival, grandpa would ask our maid to clean the house and there I would get a chance to see all the age old things in the attic.The huge cooking pots and other utensils that we can hardly see around these days.Boxes of books and other stuffs.In the evening we would take neem leaves,poolapoo,avaram poo[I will look up for their English names] and make 5 bunches with a little bit of all the three in each bunch.Grandpa would place them on all four sides of the house and the remaining one on the tulsi plant.This is called ''Kaapu'-meaning protection.Am not sure if they protect us from thieves but they sure do protect us from all the harmful and poisonous insects entering the threshold.
On pongal day we would wake up early, bathe and wear new clothes.Grandma would have drawn beautiful rangoli both in the front yard and the backyard beside the Tulsi[Holy basil] plants.Grandpa would have kept the kumutti ready to be lighted.A pot would be decorated and tied with a fresh piece of turmeric,filled with fresh milk.Grandpa would light the kumutti[a kind of stove]We would all wait patiently till the milk boils over and shout ‘Pongal-o-pongal’.
He would later take the milk and put in chopped bananas add a pinch of cardamom powder and sugar and offer it to God.We would have a little of this after the prayer.
The best part of the festival is yet to come!Breakfast would have so many dishes that it would be hard to stop eating!Of course then there would be the mandatory sugar cane which grandma would peel and chop into bite sized pieces for [the lazy] me.
Grandpa's friend who lived a couple of houses away owns a few cattle and we would be invited to worship them on Mattu pongal day.
Their cattle would be bathed and beautifully decorated and garlanded.Their house is a typical rural one with rooms on all the side and a huge courtyard in the center with a couple of mango trees in it. The cattle shed would be located in one corner of the courtyard.So you can imagine how large the house would be.
The cattle shed too would be cleaned and decorated and the cattle would be tied in the center of the courtyard.They will be anointed with saffron and turmeric powder .Sugar cane,rice,pieces of jaggery,bananas would be placed on a plantain leaf in front of them to feast.Next comes the feast for us!Needless to say I would have a gala time.
In the evening, everyone who owns cattle would lead them in a procession to the village center past grandpa's home.I would stand by the gate and watch the procession.Rows and rows of cattle decorated with garlands and balloons tied to their painted horns is a scene to remember!!!
The place where grandpa lives now has changed to a big town and its ages since I went there for pongal.That reminds me to ask him how it is being celebrated there these days and if the people are still following the same rituals in that place.
I am not sure if the city folks celebrate Pongal festival with the same fervor as the village folks where agriculture is their livelihood.
Anyways,here is my warm wishes for a Happy Pongal
Coming up next is the tasty sakkarai pongal-a special recipe for Pongal festival.