Legends of Pongal
All the festivals have some interesting legends associated with it. Pongal, the much awaited festival of South India particularly Tamil Nadu also has interesting legends associated with it. The most popular legends attached to Pongal celebration:
Legend of Mount Govardhan
The first day of the festival Bhogi Pongal has an association with legend of Lord Indra (the God of clouds and rains) and Lord Krishna. Earlier, people used to worship Lord Indra who was the King of the deities. This honor given to Lord Indra made him full of pride and arrogance. He thought himself to be the most powerful of all the beings. When child Krishna came to know about this he thought of a plan to teach him a lesson. He persuaded his cowherd friends to worship Mt. Govardhan rather than Lord Indra. This angered Lord Indra and he sent forth the clouds to generate non-stop thunder, lightning, heavy rains and flood the land. As per the tale, Lord Krishna lifted the huge Govardhan Parvat on his little finger to protect the cowherds and the cattle. He kept standing with the lifted mount to save all the humans from the ravaging storm of Lord Indra. The rains continued for three days and at last Indra realized his mistake and divine power of Lord Krishna. He promised humility and begged Krishna’s forgiveness. Since then, Krishna allowed to let the Bhogi celebrations continue in honor of Indra. Thus, the day gave the origin to the Pongal celebration. The festival got another name of Indran from his legendary story. Lord Indra is worshiped for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land. This day is also known as Indran. Thus, Bhogi festival or Bhogi is the first day of Pongal and is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, “the God of Clouds and Rains”.
Legend of Lord Shiva
Another legend associated with the festival relates to Lord Shiva. The third day of Pongal known as Mattu Pongal involves Lord Shiva and his mount, Nandi (Basava), the bull. According to the legend, Lord Shiva once asked his bull to go to the Earth and deliver his message to the people to have an oil massage and bath daily and to eat food once a month. Mistakenly, Basava announced to have an oil massage and bath once a month and to eat food daily. Enraged Shiva cursed Basava and said that due to this mistake there would be lack of grains on the Earth. He banished the bull to live on earth forever and help people plough the fields. Thus, Mattu Pongal has an association with the cattle. It is also called Kanu Pongal.
Pongal is dedicated to the sun god, Surya and has its roots in ancient Brahminical tradition. Since Pongal is a rural, agrarian based festival that celebrates the harvests, the sun is a vital part of the proceedings. This is because the Sun is the symbol of life on Earth. Without the Sun, crops cannot sprout and grow. Without the Sun, harvests will not be plentiful.
The preparation of Pongal festival is quite elaborate and starts several days before the actual date of celebration. Pongal is one such festival in which not only people are charged up, but animals also join in the Pongal preparation. People get busy decking up their houses, discarding old and unwanted things. Many of them get busy giving a fresh coat of paint to their homes.
The festival is spread over three days and is the most important and most fervently-celebrated harvest festival of South India. A special puja is performed on the first day of Pongal before the cutting of the paddy. Farmers worship the sun and the earth by anointing their ploughs and sickles with sandal wood paste. It is with these consecrated tools that the newly-harvested rice is cut.
Each of the four days are marked by different festivities.
The first day, Bhogi Pongal, is in honor of Indra the god of rain
There are many legends told about this day. The day begins with a til (sesame) oil bath and in the evening there is a bonfire in which all the rubbish in the house is burnt.
On Bhogi all people clean out their homes from top to bottom, and collect all unwanted goods. This day is meant for domestic activities and of being together with the family members.
All the houses from the richest to the humblest are thoroughly scrubbed and whitewashed. Homes are cleaned and decorated with “Kolam” – floor designs drawn in the white paste of newly harvested rice with outlines of red mud. Often pumpkin flowers are set into cow-dung balls and placed among the patterns. Fresh harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in from the field as preparation for the following day.
Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God. The newly harvested rice is cooked with milk and Jaggery in a new clay pot in the open and allowed to boil over, signifying plenty and prosperity for the year ahead. People gather around the pot when the milk boils and shout in joy “Pongalo Pongal, Pongalo Pongal” Then the cooked pongal is offered to the Sun God and taken as prasad. New clothes for the family is a must, and gifts are bestowed to all relatives, especially newly married couples and babies.
The third day of Pongal, Mattu Pongal, is for worship of the cattle. Cattle are bathed, their horns polished and painted in bright colors, and decorated with bells, seashells, and beads. They are garlanded and taken out around the village in a procession. The entire atmosphere becomes festive and full of fun and revelry. The Pongal that has been offered to the Gods is then given to cattle and birds to eat.
The fourth day of the three-day Pongal celebrations is called Kaanum Pongal. In few places this day is also known as Karinaal or Thiruvalluvar Day. This day is very similar to Rakhsa Bandhan and Bhai Dhuj in that it is predominantly a festival where women offer prayers for the wellbeing of their brothers. The women perform this ritual before bathing in the morning. All the women, young and old, of the house, assemble in the courtyard. They also seek blessings from the elders (women) in the house with turmeric anointed on their forehead. After this, different colored rice (yellow, red, white and jaggery color) is placed in the centre of the leaf, while the women ask that the house and family of their brothers should prosper. Aarati is performed for the brothers with turmeric water, limestone and rice, and this water is sprinkled on the kolam in front of the house.
On this day, people travel to see other family members and the younger members of the family pay homage to the elders, and the elders thank them by giving token money.
Other Names of Pongal
In the south, people have the festival of Pongal, which is celebrated over four days. The newly harvested rice is cooked and this preparation goes by the name Pongal.
In the North Indian states of India, people celebrate this day as Makar Sankranti. The most exciting thing about this festival is the kite flying. People believe that the direction of the wind changes on that day, and so they all come out into the streets to fly colorful kites and capture as many as possible.
In Punjab, people celebrate Lohri in January on what they believe is the coldest day of the year. With the cold winds blowing they celebrate by dancing the bhangra around a fire, which is fed with sugarcane, rice and sesame seeds. People sing folk songs that tell of a good harvest, which is a blessing from the gods.
This is the greatest festival of the Assamese people, who observe three Bihus. The three Bihus, constitute a festival complex and are celebrated at various stages of the cultivation of paddy, the principal crop of Assam.
The Hadaga festival in Maharashtra is to pray for a good monsoon and a good harvest. As Indra is the god of rain, people sing songs to Indra and pray for rain. Pictures of the elephant which is Indra’s vehicle are drawn everywhere to invite the God.