The Tamil festival of Thai Pongal is a thanks giving ceremony in which the farmers celebrate the event to thank the spirits of nature spirit, the Sun and the farm animals for their assistance in providing a successful harvest. The rest of the people celebrate the festival to pay their thanks to the farmers for the production of food. Overall, it is a festival to encourage social cohesiveness and unite people by bringing them together in a common function. There are many songs about Thai Pongal and there is much Tamil literature about it.
Customs & Celebrations
Thai Pongal generally includes customs & celebrations that are the expression of jubilation over life’s renewal. On Thai Pongal, the family begins the day early. Every member of the family gets up early in the morning, bathes, puts on new clothes and gathers in the front of the garden (muttram) to cook the traditional Pongal (rice pudding). The front garden is pre-prepared for this ceremonious cooking. A flat square pitch is made and decorated with kolam drawings, and it is exposed to the direct sun light. A fire wood hearth will be set up using three bricks. The cooking begins by putting a clay pot with water on the hearth.
A senior member of the family conduct the cooking and the rest of the family dutifully assists him or her or watches the event. When the water has boiled the rice is put into the pot – after a member the family ceremoniously puts three handful of rice in first. The other ingredients of this special dish are chakkarai (brown cane sugar) or katkandu (sugar candy), milk (cow’s milk or coconut milk), roasted green gram (payaru), raisins, cashew nuts and few pods of cardamom.
When the meal is ready it is first put on a banana leaf and the family pray for few minutes to thank the nature sprit, the sun and farmers.
Then the meal (Pongal) is served with fruits (banana and mango) among the family. Later it will be shared with neighbors, friends and relatives. Although every household makes the food, sharing each others ‘Pongal’ is the one of the important features of the event. Some Hindu scholars believe that the rice is ceremoniously cooked on the Thai Pongal day because of its importance as a potent symbol of auspiciousness and fertility. The evenings are spent attending cultural events or visiting relatives and friends.
The day of the Thai Pongal is devoted to thanksgiving to cattle. The farmers pay great attention to the animals which have ploughed the fields and drawn the carts throughout the year. To show his gratitude for this invaluable service the animals are bathed, their horns are painted in red, blue, yellow and green. Their foreheads are smeared with turmeric and kumkum. Their necks are adorned with colorful garlands. Pooja is offered to them and Pongal is given in plenty. This is called Mattu Pongal.
Meaning & Significance
Thai Pongal is an occasion for family re-unions and get-together. Old enmities, personal animosities and rivalries are forgotten. Estrangements are healed and reconciliation effected.
Indeed, Thai Pongal is a festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion crystallized in the last hymn on unity in the Indian spiritual text the Rig Veda. Thus, love and peace are the central theme of Thai Pongal.