Friday, January 14, 2011

Thai Pongal

Thai Pongal :An Indian thanksgiving Event

Thai Pongal (celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai),is a harvest festival originally celebrated by Tamils in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.It was one of the most important festivals among peasants in villagers who tilled their land and reared animals. Today it has evolved into a cultural festival of Tamils all over the world, including those who know nothing about farming.

Pongal in Tamil means"boiling over or spill over." The boiling over of milk in the clay pot symbolizes material abundance for the household. Thai Pongal, celebrated at harvest time on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai, is traditionally intended to thank the Sun God,Surya, and farmstead livestock that helped create the material abundance. They thank the solar deity for the good harvest and consecrate the first grain to him

The saying "Thai PirandhalVazhiPirakkum" meaning " the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities" is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival. The festival usually occurs from January 13 — 15 i.e. the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of Thai,this year on February 15.

Thai Ponggal is celebrated for three consecutive days.

The first day it is celebrated for the harvested crops and shared with friends and relatives. The main feature of this festival is the boiling of milk in a clay pot until it overflows when the family members gathered round the pot shouting, ”Ponggale oh Ponggale” then add rice to it. Boiling-over if occurs at sunrise would be sign of blessing from the Sun God,Surya to whom the special day is dedicated.

On the second day known as MattuPonggal, cows are adored and given special offerings. This is the time when villages decorate the cows and also the elders seek God’s blessing for their children. The cows are given a bath, their horns painted and they are decorated with garlands. It is day dedicated to the cow which provided everything they needed to a good living.

The third day known as KanniPonggal is dedicated to young virgins. As virginity used to be sign of purity by honoring such women showed the great importance they attached to this virtue as they would soon be the mothers, who will be looked-up with great respect by both men and women alike. Young women pray for a good life and a dashing great husband. The young unmarried ladies wearing new clothes, gold and silver ornaments will have special prayers for their future marriage.

Ponggal is the only Indian festival that is based on the solar calendar as all other Hindus festivals follows the lunar calendar. It signifies the commencement of Uttarayana, which represents the northward journey of Sun. It other parts of India it is celebrated as MakarSankranti.

Significance of boiling over of spilt milk

The milk is boiled in earthen pots till it spills over.The spilling of milk means prosperity and if the milk spills as the sun rises, it is a good sign for the family. It would mean the blessing of Surya onto the family.

Half of the boiled milk is then scooped for offering to the departed parents and ancestors and remainder for the family and friends to drink. Then sweetened rice is added for cooking. As the sweetened rice(pongal rice) is about to cook, a spoonful of ghee is added. Once the sweetened rice is ready, an offering is made to the Sun God and the ancestors and the remainder shared with neighbors.

Ponggal and its relevance to us today

Pongal used to be celebrated by Tamils of Hindu faith but today it has come to celebrated by Tamils of other faiths as well, particularly the Christians who share common culture and language. Traditionally it used to be a harvest festival for peasants in villagers, who plough their land, plant crops and rear herds of cattle; for them their livelihood depend entirely on these activities.

Today the majority of Tamils are not involved in farming and they have little knowledge of it.Pongal may be irrelevant to them but surprisingly it is being celebrated by more and more of them in our country. It is being celebrated by all Tamils, even those residing in urban areas in high rise buildings and who have nothing in common with those villagers. To Tamils today in urban areas Pongal has become a symbol of their culture and tradition which they want to uphold steadfastly for fear they may soon be forgotten by the future generations. This especially so in countries where Tamils are a minority like in Malaysia.

Thanking Mother Nature for the abundant harvest that gave the peasants and their families good life is indeed a noble one. Sharing their harvest with neighbors is a greater nobility which we should all emulate regardless of our own faith and culture. We too regardless of who we are should all incorporate such good practices into our own lives.

Malaysians should take it as an opportunity to thank the Almighty for the abundant blessings we received either overtly or in disguise. Often these blessings come in disguise which we only realize much later when we get out of the various crises that come our way. It is in sharing our blessings with our neighbors will we be rewarded with more.


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