When the harvest is over, the people of Tamil Nadu offer a joyous thanks to the gods, the earth and their cattle. For four days they celebrate and worship with devotion.
Pongal Kolam is a festival so uniquely Tamil that it has been designated the ‘State Festival’. It is a harvest festival that encompasses all of Tamil Nadu in its joyous embrace. It is a time when all the people of different community offer thanks to the gods, worship the sun, the earth, the cattle and their bounty with devotion. To say that Pongal is a harvest festival would curtail its importance. Pongal festivities continue through the first four days of Thai month (mid January to mid-February). The houses are cleaned, painted and decorated. People wear new clothes and the cattle are decorated with beads, bells and flowers - their horns painted and capped with gleaming metals.
The first day of Pongal is Bhogi, marked by feasting and merrymaking. It is time for the new to replace the old. Huge bonfires are lit and all that is unwanted around the house is consigned. to the flames. Traditionally all old clay utensils were ritually broken and potters were asked to supply a fresh stock. Of course with the advent of plastics and steel this ritual retains symbolic importance only.
The second day is Pongal - the day when the pot of milk and rice must boil over to be auspicious. In Tamil Nadu it is a day when happiness and hospitality abound. Early in the morning before sun rise the women of the house draw intricate patterns called kolam outside their front doors. These patterns, drawn with rice and flour dyed in brilliant hues, are a regular feature outside a south Indian home or shop. It is an art handed down from mother to daughter over the ages. The politically conscious family even incorporates the electoral symbol of the preferred political party. For Pongal the patterns depict pots of rice and milk boiling over along with sugar-Cane.
The ritual cooking of rice and milk is done in the open in the fields by farmers and in courtyards and lawns of homes in the cities at a pre-determined auspicious hour. The cooking area is decorated with flowers, rice paste and kumkum. Even the cooking pots are decorated their necks tied with freshly harvested turmeric. The boili nng over of the contents is 1he auspicious sign that the family waits for. This is the offering to the Sun God and Mother Earth. The cooked preparation is Pongal (made of new rice, milk and newly made jaggery) offered to the Gods along with preparations of vegetables and lentils, newly harvested sugarcane and bananas. Soon after all the family members sit down to a ritual meal.
The third day is Mattu Pongal - a day for cattle worship. The cattle are bathed, decorated and fed ‘Pongal’. Cattle carts are raced on the roads and cattle fairs are held. People dance and sing in the village square.