Harvest festival of ‘Pongal’ is unique and significant depending on the region. ‘Pongal’ is celebrated all over India and on the very same day. The basic difference is that the same festival has different names depending on the region. Common to all the regional harvest festivals are bonfires and feasts. Almost all states of India celebrate this festival with variations like singing and dancing. In north India same festival is called ‘Lohri’. In north-east India in Assam it is called ‘Bhogali Bihu’. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar the festival is known as ‘Sankranti’. In south India in Andhra Pradesh this festival is called ‘Bhogi’. ‘Pongal’ festival has many regional names. Also, collection of dolls in different households show there are different customs in different regions.
The regional significance of Pongal / Sankranti festival is as follows:
Pongal in Maharashtra:
In Maharashtra, on 14th January, ‘Makar Sankranti’ festival is celebrated with flying kites. The entire sky is full of colourful kites of various sizes and shapes. In addition, people exchange homemade delicacies like ‘til’ and ‘gur laddoos’. Sweetness of ‘gur’ brings sweetness of speech all year round so people use for wishing.
On this auspicious ‘Makar Sankranti’ day, newlywed woman gives away oil, cotton and sesame seeds. It is believed that this blesses her and her family with long life and prosperity. Women wear new clothes, new glass bangles. Relatives are invited to attend ‘Haldi Kumkum’ for welcoming the new bride to their family.
Pongal in Gujarat:
In Gujarat, ‘Makar Sankranti’ is celebrated by flying kites. Traditionally it is celebrated on 13th or 14th January. On this day families are seen outdoors kite-flying and cutting each other’s kites. Countless kites of various colours, shapes and sizes adorn skies from dawn to dusk during this festival. The vast scene of sky is dotted with thousand of kites. Hence, the sight is wonderful.
International kite festival is held at Ahmedabad, capital city, on 14th January. This coincides with ‘Makar Sankranti’ festival or ‘Uttarayan’. People of Gujarat celebrate this festival with a lot of enthusiasm. All businesses come to a grinding halt for 3 to 4 days. Festival is celebration of end of winter. Excitement at nightfall is when illuminated box kites strung in a line are launched into the sky. This is known as ‘tukals’ that add splendour to the dark sky.
‘Pongal’ in Uttar Pradesh:
In Uttar Pradesh, the festival is called ‘Makar Sankranti’. On this auspicious day, people take a mandatory ritual bath in the river. There is a popular belief of people living in the hills of Uttar Pradesh. Anyone who does not bathe in river on ‘Makar Sankranti’ would be born a donkey in next life. The other salient feature is offering ‘khichri’, cooked mixture of rice and lentil.
On ‘Makar Sankranti’, there is a big ‘mela’ [fair] held at ‘Triveni Sangam’ in Allahabad. This ‘mela’ is held from beginning of ‘Magha’ month so it is called ‘Magha Mela’. Besides ‘Triveni’, ritual bathing are organised at ‘Haridwar’ and ‘Garh Mukteshwar’ in Uttar Pradesh. Kite-flying competitions are held in several locations for celebration of ‘Makar Sankranti’ in Uttar Pradesh.
Pongal in Andhra Pradesh:
In Andhra Pradesh, ‘Pongal’ celebration begins one month in advance. ‘Bhogi’ is the day preceding ‘Sankranti’ and ‘Kanumu’ is the day after. Early morning on ‘Bhogi’ or first day, bonfire is lit with waste and unnecessary items. Then people go for their traditional special bath. ‘Pongali’ [rice pudding with milk], an important item of this festival is made. Other special dishes like ‘ariselu’ [sweet rice cakes] are also prepared. On ‘Kanumu’ day, animals are decorated and races are held. Sometimes banned cockfights, bullfights and ram fights are also included. Sun, ‘Mahabali’ [a mythological Dravidian king] and ‘Godadevi’ [Goddess Goda] are worshiped during this harvest festival.
Pongal in Karnataka:
In Karnataka, the festival is called ‘Sankranti’. Cows and bullocks are gaily decorated. They are fed ‘Pongal’, sweet preparation of rice. Special prayers are offered in temples and houses. In the evening cattle are led out in a procession with the beating of drums and music. At night a bonfire is lit and animals are made to jump over the fire.
During ‘Makar Sankranti’ everyone wears colourful clothes. They visit friends, relatives and family members. People exchange sugarcane pieces, mixture of fried ‘til’, molasses, dry-coconut pieces, peanuts and fried gram. Significance of exchanging is so that sweetness prevails in all dealings.
There is an interesting tradition in Karnataka. After pujas, white sesame [‘ellu’] mixed with ‘jaggery’, peanuts, dry coconut and sugar blocks [‘shakkare achchu’] are exchanged. Also, a very rare phenomenon is witnessed at ‘Gavi Gangadhareshwara’ [Siva] temple in Bangalore. Here, in the evening, Sun’s rays pass over Nandi’s horns and falls on Lingam in sanctum. This possibility of the sun rays moving from Nandi to Lingam is an architectural marvel.
Pongal in Tamil Nadu:
‘Pongal’ in Tamil Nadu is celebrated after southeast monsoons and beginning of harvest reaping. The festival is strictly rural when sun is worshiped for helping life on Earth. ‘Pongal’ is the biggest harvest festival that spreads over four days. Festival is called after ‘Pongal’, rice pudding made of newly harvested rice, milk and jaggery.
The first day or ‘Bhogi Pongal’ is for spending with family. The second day or ‘Surya Pongal’ is dedicated to worshiping Surya, the Sun God. The third day or ‘Mattu Pongal’ is for honouring cattle. A ‘rath yatra’ procession is taken out from ‘Kandaswamy’ Temple in Chennai [Madras]. ‘Pongal’ in Madurai, Tanjore and Tiruchirrapalli is called ‘Jellikattu’. Bundles of money are tied to horns of bulls that brave villagers have to retrieve. Community meals made from newly harvested crops are enjoyed by the entire village.
Pongal in Kerala:
On ‘Makar Sankranti’ evening in Kerala, thousands of pilgrims gather at hill shrine of ‘Sabarimala’. They witness star like celestial light of incredible splendour appearing on the horizon. This celestial light is known as ‘Makara Jyothi’, a miracle occurring in the ‘Deeparadhana’ (evening). Pilgrims consider ‘Makara Jyothi’ a great moment of fulfilment. Lord Ayyappa is adorned with special jewels known as ‘Thiruvaabharanam’. According to a legend, jewels were donated by earlier Pandalam Maharaja who encouraged father of Lord.