‘Thai Pongal’ is celebrated on first day of ‘Thai’ month of Tamil calendar. This day is usually between 12th and 15th of January in Gregorian or Christian calendar. ‘Thai’ is the first month of Tamil calendar. ‘Pongal’ is a dish made with sweet mixture of rice, moong dal, jaggery and milk. Festival is celebrated by everyone since it is not significant to any particular religious faith. Tamil population living all over the World celebrate ‘Pongal’ festival and without making any differences. Festival is widely known as ‘Tamil Thai Pongal’ or ‘Festival of the Tamils’.
The Tamil festival of ‘Thai Pongal’ is a thanksgiving ceremony. Farmers thank Lord Indra, Sun God, earth and cattle for assisting in providing abundant harvest. Rest of the people celebrate festivals to thank the farmers for producing the crops. This festival is to encourage social cohesiveness by bringing people together in common function. There are many songs on ‘Thai’ ‘Pongal’. Also there is a lot of Tamil literature depicting the ‘Pongal’ festival.
Customs and Celebrations:
‘Thai Pongal’ generally includes customs and celebrations that are expression of jubilation over life’s renewal. On ‘Thai Pongal’, every member of the family gets up early in the morning. Family members bathe, wear new clothes. They gather in front garden [‘muttram’] and cook traditional ‘Pongal’ [rice pudding]. The front garden is pre-prepared for this ceremonious cooking. Flat square pitch is made; decorated with ‘Kolams’ drawings and exposed to direct sun light. Fire wood hearth is setup using three bricks. Cooking begins when clay pot is filled with sufficient water and placed on this heart.
A senior member of the family conducts the cooking. Meanwhile, rest of the family members either dutifully assist him/her or watch the event. When water boils, rice is added in the pot. Initially, the family members ceremoniously add three handfuls of rice followed by other ingredients. These include two kinds of sugar from ‘chakkarai’ [brown cane sugar] or ‘katkandu’ [sugar candy]. Milk [cow’s milk/coconut milk], roasted-green-grams [payaru], raisins, cashew nuts, cardamom-pods are added for this special dish.
When meal is ready, it is placed on banana leaf. Family members pray for a few minutes to thank nature spirit, sun and farmers. After that, ‘Pongal’ [meal] is served with fruits like bananas and mangoes to family members. Later on, ‘Pongal’ is shared with neighbours, friends and relatives. Every household makes ‘Pongal’ that is shared with all. Hence, this practise is most important aspect of ‘Pongal’ festival.
Hindu scholars believe, rice being symbol of favourable fertility, it is ceremoniously cooked on ‘Thai Pongal’. The evenings are spent either attending cultural events or visiting relatives and friends.
Day of ‘Thai Pongal’ is devoted to thanksgiving to cattle. Farmers attend to cattle that plough fields and draw carts throughout the year. Farmers show their gratitude for invaluable service of cattle. They bathe the cattle and paint their horns in red, blue, yellow and green. They smear their foreheads with turmeric and kumkum and adorn their necks with colourful garlands. Cattle are offered puja and given ‘Pongal’ in plenty. Hence, this is called ‘Mattu Pongal’.
Thai Pongal Meaning and Significance:
‘Thai Pongal’ is an occasion for family reunions and get-to-together. Personal hatred and enmity are forgotten and separation is healed and compromised.
‘Thai Pongal’ is a festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion. This has been crystallised in last hymn on unity in Rig Veda, Indian Spiritual Text. Hence, love and peace have always been the central theme of ‘Thai Pongal’.