‘Pongal’ is an ancient festival celebrated by Tamils of south India. History of festival has been traced to Sangam Age between 200 B.C. and 300 A.D. ‘Pongal’ was initially a Dravidian harvest festival. This festival has been mention in ‘Puranas’ in Sanskrit language. Evidently, historians identify this festival as ‘Thai Un’ and ‘Thai Niradal’ celebrated in Sangam Age.
Observance of ‘Pongal’ in Sangam era (‘Thai Niradal’)
Festivals celebrated in the Sangam era are still practised in the modern era. Part of these festivities during Sangam era, maidens during ‘Thai Niradal’ observed ‘Pavai Nonbu’. This was a major festival during the reign of Pallavas (4th – 8th Century AD). Observations show during Tamil month ‘Margazhi’ (December-January), young girls prayed for rain and prosperity. Young maidens avoided consuming milk and milk products all throughout Marghazi. They did not oil their hair and never spoke any harsh words. Early morning, after taking a bath, women worshipped Goddess Katyayani made with wet sand. These maidens ended their penance on first day of month of ‘Thai’ [January-February]. This penance was done for abundant rains that would bring flourishing paddies. These traditions and customs of those ancient times gave rise to today’s ‘Pongal’ celebrations.
Andal’s ‘Tiruppavai’ and Manickavachakar’s ‘Tiruvembavai’ clearly describe festival of ‘Thai Niradal’ when ‘Pavai Nonbu’ was observed. There is an inscription in Veeraraghava temple at Tiruvallur. According to inscription, the Chola King Kiluttunga had gifted lands to temple for ‘Pongal’ celebration.