All around the world, people celebrate harvest festival annually in some form or the other. It is traditionally the time for joyful celebration, with people feasting and involving in various activities of games and fun after a year of hard work. Harvest festivals are festival of abundance and a way of expressing the gratitude towards the nature for its blissful co-operation. The time of celebration may vary depending on the seasons and the type of crops the regions specialises. In India every region has its own harvest festivals. Thai Pongal is Tamil harvest festival. In the Tamil language the word Pongal means “overflowing,” signifying abundance and prosperity.
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Preparing Pongal on Thai Pongal Day
History of Thai Pongal
Agrarian societies considered themselves at the mercy of God and nature, for a good harvest. The rituals of appeasing the deities were a part of daily life, but harvest festivals were more or less a way of showing gratitude for a good harvest. Pongal has its origins as a Dravidian harvest festival dating back thousand s of years. The literatures of Sangam period (spanning from 3rd Century BC to 4th Century AD) has references about Pongal. The harvest festival, Thai Un and Thai Niradal celebrated in the Marghazhi month, during the reign of Pallava Dynasty , believed to have gave rise to Pongal celebrations. Manickavachakar’s Tiruvembavai and Andal’s Tiruppavai gives a peak back on how the festivals were celebrated in the Sangam period. The inscriptions found in 5000 year old Veeraraghava temple in Thiruvallur has references about receiving gift of land from Chola King Kiluttunga for the Pongal Celebrations.
Legends of Pongal
There are two popular legends about Pongal , one related to Lord Indra and the other related to Lord Shiva.
Legend of Indra
Indra, the king of the Gods, grew quite arrogant after he defeated all the demons. Krishna wanted to teach him a lesson in humility. Krishna convinced his people to worship Mount Govardhan instead of Indra for rains. This made Indra furious, and he decided to punish them by sending out storms and never ending rains. Krishna then lifted Mount Govardhan and held it over the head of his people as an umbrella and saved them from the continuous raining and floods. Indra realised his mistake and sought the forgiveness of Krishna. Lord Krishna forgave him and after that organised celebrations as a mark of respect for Indra. Bhogi pongal has its origins from this legend.
The legend of Shiva
Once Lord Shiva asked his bull, Basava to go to earth and ask the humans to eat once a month and have oil bath every day. Inadvertently, Basava instructed the earthlings to eat every day and have oil bath once a month. An enraged Shiva cursed Basava, to live in earth forever, ploughing the fields and helping people to produce more food. Mattupongal has its origins with this legend.
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Kolam design for Pongal
The Days of the Pongal
Pongal is celebrated for four days. Though in Tamilnadu, women draw Kolam in front of the house every day, with rice flour, drawing a Kolam during the Margazhi month has special significance. Traditionally houses are whitewashed in the month of Margazhi to welcome Pongal. In the villages, farmers even paint the horns of the their bullocks
The first day of pongal is called Bhogi. Bhogi is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials by setting them on fire. Houses are cleaned and decorated to give a festive look. Bhogi pongal is a day for the family. Lord Indra is worshipped on Bhogi day. Houses are cleaned and decorated and a Kolam is drawn in front of the house.
Thai Pongal is the Pongal day and takes place on the second of the four day celebrations. Thai Pongal is celebrated on Makara Sankranthi day. Makar Sankranti marks the transition of the Sun into the zodiac sign of Makara rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. The day is also believed to mark the arrival of spring and the end of winter in India. Thai Pongal is also known as Uzhavar Thirunal
Though now a days, tradition has gave way to the restrictions modern day life places on us, in the villages of Tamil Nadu Pongal is still celebrated in the most traditional way. On the Thai Pongal day, every one in the house gets up early , take bath and wear new clothes. A firewood hearth will be set up on the front of the house for ceremonial cooking. The Pongal is set up in the direct view of the Sun. Milk will be boiled in the vessel until it bubbles and overflows the vessel. This is considered as a good sign of abundance. When the milk boils over , the family members will blow a conch and shout ‘ Pongalo Pongal’. The rice boiled and jiggery and cashew , nuts and raisins will be added to prepare Pongal.
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(Mattu Pongal – Worshiping the cattle)
Mattu Pongal is celebrated on the third day. On this day cattle is worshipped. In Indian culture cattle is considered as a source of wealth. It is a day for thanks giving to cattle. The horns are painted and cattle are decorated with bells and flowers, and is usually allowed to roam freely. In the afternoon of Mattu Pongal day Jallikattu takes place. Jallikkattu is a bull taming sport.
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Jallikattu – The Sport of Taming the Cattle
The fourth day of the Pongal is Kaanum Pongal. Kaanum means meet. On this day relatives hold reunions or spend time together in beach or park.
Recipe for making Sakkarai Pongal on Thai Pongal Day
Sakkarai Pongal or Sweet Pongal Recipe
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Preparing Sakkarai Pongal on Thai Pongal Day
Raw rice – 1 cup
Moong Daal or Pasi parippu – 3 table spoons
Jaggery – Take one full cup, if you want to make it sweeter add a little bit more.
Water – 4 cups
Unboiled fresh milk – ½ cup
Ghee – 4 table spoons
Cashew – Take 10 to 15
Elachi (Cardamom seeds ) – 4 nos
Edible Camphor – one tiny pinch
Cloves – 2 or 3
Jathikka ( Nutmeg) powder – take a pinch
In a pan dry roast Moong dal till you get a good aroma. Check for it to turn to golden brown colour. Mix it with one cup of rice. Wash it and drain the water.
Add milk and water in a pot and boil it. If you are making it for Thai Pongal boil it until it spill a little. Add the washed rice, and dal mixture in the boiled milk. Add a pinch of salt. At this stage you can remove the excess water and keep it separate. You may add the water later if you find necessary. Cover the vessel with lid and cook the rice in reduced flame.
Keep the jiggery grated. If your jiggery is not of good quality and have impurities in it, heat ¼ glass of water in a bowl, add jiggery in it and allow it to melt. Filter the jiggery syrup to remove the impurities. If the jiggery is of good quality, you can skip this step. After rice is cooked well, open it and add jiggery and mix it well. Now reduce the flame and heat in low flame. Add a table spoon of ghee. Heat it till the jiggery syrup mixes well with the rice. Ensure that Pongal is slightly watery. If it looks dried, add a little boiled milk.
In a separate frying pan add some ghee and roast cloves and cardamom seeds and nutmeg. Add it to Pongal and mix it well. In the same way roast the cashews to golden brown and add it to the Pongal. Add a pinch of edible Camphor Powder. Camphor powder will enhance the flavour.