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As the zest and pomp of the New Year start dimming, India comes alive in the celebration of Makar Sankranti around mid-January. Down south in Tamil Nadu, the celebration takes the form of Pongal in the month of Thai (the tenth month, which falls between January and February) as per the Tamil Calendar.
It is a four-day festival during the solar equinox observed as a harvest festival or thanksgiving for the good harvest during the year for crops like rice, turmeric, sugarcane, etc.
When is the auspicious celebration of Pongal in 2023? Why and how is Pongal celebrated in Tamil Nadu? Find out details below.
Pongal festival date & holiday in 2023
The date and times of Pongal in 2023 are as follows (Drik Panchang):
Bhogi Pandigai – 14 January 2023
Thai Pongal – 15 January 2023
Sankranti Moment – 8:57 PM, 15 Jan 2023
Mattu Pongal – 16 January 2023
Kaanum Pongal – 17 January 2023
How do people celebrate during Pongal Holiday?
The festival name Pongal literally means “boiling over” or “overflow” in Tamil. Pongal is also the name of a delicious sweetened dish of rice boiled in milk and jaggery that people in Tamil Nadu consume ritually during Makar Sankranti.
Preparations for the celebration start well in advance, a few weeks before the main four days. People offer prayer to the Sun God and come together at social gatherings to develop and strengthen mutual bonds. All over the world, the Tamilian diaspora would buy new clothes and other items and exchange gifts with friends and family. Decoration of houses would include the use of banana and mango leaves.
The four days of celebration of Pongal in Tamil Nadu see several ritualistic practices, some with religious significance and others merely for fun:
Day 1 – Bhogi
The first day of Pongal, called Bhogi Pongal, demarcates the last day of the ninth month of Marghazi of the Tamil calendar before the month of Tai begins. It is dedicated to the worship of Lord Indra, the God of the Gods (also heralded as the God of rains and clouds), seeking his blessing to bring prosperity to the farmlands.
On the day of Bhogi, new clothes are worn by all, and the horns of buffalos are painted in rural areas. People discard all things old and bad to welcome the good and new. All the useless items at home are collected and piled up to light a bonfire made of wood, cakes, and cow dung in the wee hours of the day. Some even dance around the fire in circles.
Day 2 – Thai Pongal
The same day as the rest of India revels in the spirits of Makar Sankranti, Tamil Nadu celebrates Thai Pongal as the main day of celebration. This second day is also called Surya Pongal, Suryan Pongal, or Perum Pongal. It marks the day of Uttarayan or the day of Winter Solstice when the Sun begins its journey towards the Northern Hemisphere (the days start extending and the nights start shortening hereon).
Early in the morning, after a bath, women and girls would draw out designs at the entrance to the house with lime powder. The auspicious floral and pattern drawings are also called Kolam.
Households prepare the traditional Pongal dish on this day with freshly harvested rice in an earthen pot, mostly out in the open. It is offered to the Sun God along with other puja items like sugarcane sticks, coconuts, and bananas. A common ritual is the breaking of a coconut on the day, which symbolizes one’s humbling journey before God. Additionally, the Pongal is also offered the cows and shared with the community by serving on banana leaves.
Day 3 – Mattu Pongal
Mattu in Tamil means “cow, bullock, cattle”. The third day of the Pongal is, therefore, dedicated to the livestock as they are a means of wealth to families – agricultural help, dairy products, fertilizers, etc.
The cattle are bathed and adorned with bells, floral garlands, horn paints, and kumkum on the foreheads. People would pray and thank the cattle with a special meal consisting of venn pongal, gur (jaggery), honey, banana, and several other fruits. The day has also gained popularity for a bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu known as Jallikattu. Such festive celebrations could be easily spotted in and around Madurai.
Day 4 – Kaanum Pongal
Kanu or Kaanum Pongal marks the end of the celebrations of Pongal in Tamil Nadu, which here means ‘to visit’. On the fourth and final day of Pongal, friends and families visit each other on this day to greet and wish each other health, wealth, and happiness. Fresh sugarcanes cut straight from the farms, too, form a part of the conversations in the social gatherings.
Women in the household perform a ritual called Kanu Pidi in the name of their brothers. Here the leftover food and Pongal from the previous days would be collected and placed over a fresh turmeric leaf outside their houses. Betel leaves, betel nuts, and sugarcane are also used. The prayers and wishes are conducted in a fashion similar to Bhai Dooj.
Here’s wishing you all a Happy Pongal!