Pongal is a harvest festival in India on or close to January 15th. It is celebrated in many different ways throughout the country. This festival dates back at least 1,000 years.
Some regional names are Makar Sankranti, Kanumu, Lohri, Bihu, Bhogi, Thai Pongal, Poki festival, and Hadaga Festival.
Thai Pongal is celebrated by Tamils (originating in Southern India and Sri Lanka). Pongal means “boiling over or spilling over.” Letting milk boil over is considered prosperous. Pongal is a harvest festival thanking the sun god, Surya, for a good crop year.
Pongal, the dish, includes milk, rice, lentils, cardamom, jaggery (a type of whole cane sugar), cashews, and raisins. It’s cooked outdoors in the sun in a clay pot called a kollam that has be decorated with colorful patterns. It is dedicated to the sun god and is served throughout the festival.
Thai Pongal is celebrated over four days. However, cities typically only celebrate one day, January 14th.
- On the first day of Pongal, Bhogi, worn out clothes and household items are burned in a huge bonfire and offerings are made to the rain god.
- On the second day, Surya Pongal or Tahi Pongal, rice is boiled with milk in new pots outdoors until it boils over. This is a momentous event that is highly celebrated. The rice is topped with sugar cane, nuts, and raisins. It is offered to the sun god and later eaten by the family along with other sweets. Early in the morning the women create beautiful kolams on the ground outside the home with colored rice.
- The third day, Mattu Pongal, is dedicated to the cattle. Cows are decorated with paint, beads, bells, and flowers. They are fed sweet rice and led through town.
- The last day, Kaanum Pongal or Thiruvalluvar Day, of Pongal people visit family and friends.
Makra Sankrant, also known as Makar Sankranti, is celebrated in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West and Bengal.
It celebrates of the coming of longer days. Special sweets and cakes are made. They all contain sesame seeds and brown sugar, making this festival particular popular with children.
Small silk bags containing sesame seeds mixed with brown sugar are offered to friends with the greeting “Eat this sweet sesame and speak sweetly to me”, to encourage harmony and no quarreling throughout the year.
In Gujarat, kites are flown.
In Punjab, this festival is called Lohri. Families gather around a bonfire and feast and dance. Sugarcane, rice, and sweets are tossed into the fire for the sun god.