Pongal : A Tamil thanksgiving Event - Part I
The Tamil community will be celebrating their harvest festival or Pongal on 15 January 2012 with their colorful traditions.
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 villages who tilled their land and reared animals. Today it has evolved into a cultural festival of Tamils all over the world, including among 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 their farmstead livestock that helped create the material abundance. They thank the solar deity for the good harvest and consecrate the first grain to him
It is believed that the birth of Thai paves the way for new opportunities so the popular Tamil saying "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum". 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.Pongal in Malaysia which used to be quite unknown is becoming an important festival, celebrated not just by Hindus but Christians as well.
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 a sign of blessing from the Sun God, Surya to whom the special day is dedicated.
On the second day known as Mattu Ponggal, 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 a day specially dedicated to the cow which provided everything they need for a good living.
The third day known as Kanni Ponggal is dedicated to young virgins. As virginity used to be sign of purity, honoring such women showed the great importance they attached to this virtue in their young women who would soon become the mothers, and will be looked-up with great respect by both men and women alike for their purity. Young women pray for a good life and dashing great husbands. The young unmarried ladies wearing new clothes, gold and silver ornaments will have special prayers for their future marriage.
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 for 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 a 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. Unfortunately like all Indian festivals it has become closely intertwined with Hinduism, the major religion of Indians.
Today the majority of Tamils in our country are not involved in farming and they have little no 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 those 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 greater nobility which we should all emulate regardless of our faith and culture. Being thankful and concerned for the animals that work for us is also a great and noble deed which is praiseworthy. 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.