Holidays and festivals in Sri Lanka are essential part of culture. Tradition and custom of celebrating ‘Pongal’ in Sri Lanka is same as Tamils in India. Among Sri Lankans, ‘Pongal’ is known as first rice festival, ‘Thai Pongal’ and ‘Ulavar Thirunaal’. In Sri Lanka rice is both, staple food and heritage in which deities figure significantly. Hence, harvest festival of ‘Pongal’ is the most important occasion for Sri Lankans.
On this day, Sri Lankan Tamil farmers honour the Sun God, ‘Suriyapakaran’. This occurs when sun enters zodiac sign of Capricorn [‘Makara’]. The real winter solstice is on 21st December. However, ‘Thai Pongal’ festival is celebrated in Tamil ‘Thai’ month [mid-January] coinciding with rice harvest.
Sri Lanka Pongal Legend:
Once, Lord Shiva asked his bull, Nandi, to descend to earth. Shiva instructed to request mortals to take oil massage and bail every day and eat once a month. Accidently, Nandi informed people to eat daily and take oil-baths monthly. This annoyed Shiva who cursed Nandi saying, “Now that people need to eat more. You stay on earth to help them plough fields more!” ‘Thai Pongal’ is a family oriented. Early morning at sunrise, ‘Pongal’ rice is boiled in clay pot, in front of house. The family members delightfully cry out, “Pongal! Pongal! auchu!” that means “It’s boiling! It’s boiling!”
Sri Lanka Pongal Kolams:
In Sri Lanka, ‘Kolams’ [Rangoli] symbolises dawn of ‘Thai Pongal’. They are drawn in front yards of houses with rice flour paste. The idea behind ‘Kolams’ is that ants and insects feeding on ‘Kolams’, would bless the home. Centre of ‘Kolams’ people place lump of cow-dung holding a five-petal pumpkin flower. This five-petal pumpkin flower symbolises fertility, offering of love to the presiding deity.
Two days Celebration:
The ‘Pongal’ festival of Sri Lanka is celebrated for two days. On the first day, Sri Lankans boil milk in a pot. Then, to this, they add rice, jaggery and syrup extracted from crushed sugarcane. This sweet rice pudding is first offered to Sun God. Later, this is eaten at peak of family festive meal. Second day is dedicated to oxen that assist farmers in paddy fields. This day is called ‘Mattu [cattle] Pongal’. The cattle are washed and decorated with straw garlands hung around their necks and horns.