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Pongal: Great Indian Thanksgiving

Part 1: Festive Time for a Sunny Harvest!

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Devotees of Siva at Nataraja temple in India
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Seventy per cent of India's population lives in villages, and a vast majority of people solely depend on agriculture. As a result, we find that most Hindu festivals are directly or indirectly linked to agriculture and related activities.

Pongal is one such big festival, celebrated every year in mid January - mostly in the south of India and especially in Tamil Nadu - to mark the harvest of crops and a special thanksgiving to God, the sun, the earth and the cattle.

Pongal is celebrated during the same time as 'Bhogali Bihu' in the North Eastern State of Assam, Lohri in Punjab, 'Bhogi' in Andhra Pradesh and 'Makar Sankranti' in the rest of the country, including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal.

What's Pongal?

'Pongal' comes from the word 'ponga' which literally means 'boil' and so 'pongal' connotes 'spillover' or that which is 'overflowing'. It's also the name of the special sweet dish cooked on the Pongal day. Pongal continues through the first four days of the 'Thai' month that starts on January 14 every year.

Seasonal Festivity

Pongal is directly associated with the annual cycle of seasons. It not only marks the reaping of the harvest, but also the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons in southern India. As the cycle of season rings out the old and ushers in the new, so is the advent of Pongal connected with cleaning up the old, burning down rubbish, and welcoming in new crops.

Cultural & Regional Variations

Pongal in the state of Tamil Nadu is celebrated during the same time as 'Bhogali Bihu' in the North Eastern State of Assam, Lohri in Punjab, 'Bhogi' in Andhra Pradesh and 'Makar Sankranti' in the rest of the country, including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal.

Assam's 'Bihu' involves the early morning worship of Agni, the god of fire followed by a nightlong feast with family and friends. Bengal's 'Makar Sankranti' entails the preparation of traditional rice-sweets called 'Pittha' and the holy fair - Ganga Sagar Mela at the Ganga Sagar beach. In Punjab, it's 'Lohri' - gathering around the sacred bonfire, feasting with family and friends, and exchanging greetings and pleasantries. And in Andhra Pradesh it is celebrated as 'Bhogi', when each household puts on display its collection of dolls.

Next Page: Four Days of Festivity

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