Tonight, I will keep things ready to celebrate the third day of the festival of Pongal, or more specifically Kanu Pongal, where my daughter and I will try to wake up with the sun. We will head out to our backyard (and these are chilly mornings now), clear and decorate a tiny space so we can place the leftover pongal (the dish) on leaves to feed the birds. This multiday festival of Pongal is dedicated to help us say thank you to the elements for the bountiful harvest they provide.
We celebrate Pongal in our home. As kids, we looked forward to many of our festivals. And why not? For they marked the arrival of new clothes and of course, festive and delicious dishes. The main dishes for Pongal include two varieties of the rice-and-lentil dish simply called “pongal.” along with a few other delicacies that are made across India to celebrate this festival!
Read how I cooked up a frenzy for Pongal last year (compared to this year where the menu looks bare) last year despite a power-cut in this post here.
Pongal: Our Thank You to the Elements
Pongal literally means “boiling over” or “bubbling over,” also referring to the “abundance of the harvest.” As mentioned earlier, Pongal is a harvest festival. It celebrates life in all forms – from the life giving sun to the birds and the bees; from the animals that help farmers, and the farmers themselves; and of course, the bountiful harvest that ensures we have food on our tables.
Every year, at the start of the Tamil month of Thai (always in mid-January), which also marks the Uttarayan (the northern transit of the sun), people around India celebrate the harvest season and the sun itself. People across India celebrate this time as: Pongal in the state of Tamil Nadu; Sankaranti in various parts of India; Bihu in the north east; and Lohri in the north.
This four day long festival celebrates different aspects each day.
called Bhogi, gives thanks to the rain god, Indra. People use it as a renewal of sorts, discarding old and unwanted things, and replacing them with fresh and new items (like new clothes!).
the main Pongal day, celebrates the sun god, Surya. Every household abounds with the words, “pongalo pongal” as the rice and lentil dish boils over in the early hours of the day. People prepare two versions of this: a sweet one (with jaggery) and a salty version spiced with green chilis, ginger, black pepper, and cumin seeds. Both versions are topped off with a generous amount of ghee (clarified butter) and cashews fried in ghee! We also prepare other delicacies, including the poli (which is a flattened bread stuffed with a sweet filling made of jaggery and either cooked lentil or coconut, among other filling options).
Day three and four
Day three is Maatu (Tamil for cow) Pongal, and is to give thanks to cattle, as they provide milk, and help farmers with ploughing their lands. Finally day four is Kanu (or Kaanum) Pongal, which translates “to see” (people). On this day, people visit each other – friends, families, and neighborhoods mingle and socialize.
In some families, like mine, we celebrate Kanu Pongal on day three with Maatu Pongal; and we keep aside some pongal and rice from the previous day to feed birds. Sisters pray for the well-being of their brothers; and in turn, sisters and daughters get gifts!
Overall, this festival is one of thanks and abundance, of starting over and starting anew. The Tamil saying in reference to this month of Thai goes like this: “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” which translates to “The birth of the month of Thai will pave the way for new opportunities.”
A Little More About Saying Thank You to the Elements
- As I mentioned in last Sunday’s post, January 14th is International Kite Day. This owes its origins to the kite festivals in the western state of Gujarat to mark the Uttarayan. This word is derived from two Sanskrit words – “uttara” (North) and “ayana” (movement) – indicating the northward movement of the Sun. Read more about this colorful festival when brightly colored kites fill the skies, here.
- Some historians claim that the festival of Pongal is almost 2000 years old [source]. Given that my native state of Tamil Nadu has a rich and ancient history, it is not too hard to believe this.
- The US state of Virginia passed a resolution marking January 14th as Pongal Day in 2018.[source]
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, hope now you know more about this festival and other related festivals celebrated across India. It is a wonderful tradition indeed, and each year, as I celebrate this and other festivals (ones I grew up celebrating, and others I borrowed from where I lived/live at the time), I realize some thing.
No matter where we are, our traditions keep us connected to each other, to home, to culture, and to ourselves. So, keep the richness of your culture alive by celebrating the everyday and the occasional traditions, and create new traditions for yourselves too, unique to your loved ones to pass on to future generations!
So dear reader, do you celebrate any of these festivals, or any similar festivals? What are your cherished family and/or cultural traditions?