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Pongal - The Tamil Tradition

Celebrated in various regional names all over India, Pongal is an integral and imperative farmer's ritual, passed on as an important tradition especially in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Here, we will explore its significance, the practicalities involved in celebrating it & its importance as a gratitude & manifestation practice.

Pongal is a huge 4 day festival celebrated around the second week of January, involving the last day of Margazhi (the coldest month in the Tamil Calendar) and the first few days of Thai (the month that ushers in warmer seasons).

Pongal celebrates those who produce the crops & play an integral role in getting us food on our tables. We celebrate to show our respect and gratitude to each and every component involved in the process of farming & food creation.

1. Bhogi - This celebration, from the farmer's perspective, is a tribute to Lord Indra (God of Rains), for the rains, and hence the water, which the God yields to the process of farming. As an extension, farming utilities and tools are also worshipped on this day. Rains signify all things fresh and new, as it washes away what is weak and ushers in fresh beginnings with a clean slate. Keeping in mind this, there is a ritual of burning all (Biodegradable & Non Toxic) old items, like cotton clothes, mud pots, cow dung, chaff of old crops, etc. 

Significance: Bhogi rituals are a way of respecting & paying gratitude to the things that help you grow and letting go of what no longer works for you, no matter how attached you are to it. By doing so, you are ushering in new energies and abundance to fill up the space previously taken up by the things you have let go of.

2. Thai Pongal - Celebrated on the first day of Thai Maasam (the month of Thai), it is the most significant of the 4 days. Thai Pongal is centered around the worship of the Sun (the primary source of energy from which yields all sorts of crops and food). On this day, the Sun finishes its Southward journey (Dakshinaayanam), and begins its Northward journey (Uttarayanam), leading to a change of season, with longer duration of days, and warmer temperatures starting to set in. (Of course we know that scientifically it is the earth moving closer to the sun on its elliptical orbit around it, but keeping in mind that this is a tradition from the farmer's perspective of the sun, it is attributed as "the Sun's Journey"). Also, on this day, when the Sun moves into the 'Makara' zodiac sign, a live darshan of the Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimalai is seen, in the evening, in the form of a Jyothi, thrice that day, like blinking lights, for a total span of about 1 min. Both these occurrences make Thai Pongal a very highly spiritual day with lots of positive energy. 

Traditionally, homes are well cleaned the day before and bunches of Koorai Pookal (Aerva lanata) are placed outside the home, on the compound walls, to ward off evil energies. Sugarcane is usually bought in bunches as a symbol of sweetness & purity. The copper vessel / mud pot (Pongal Paanai) is decorated with turmeric, and a sweet made of boiled milk, rice, & jaggery is cooked inside this vessel. A highly visually appealing ritual is allowing the boiling milk to overflow from the vessel (the only day you can do so without getting scolded! ) with joyous cries of Pongalo Pongal! (It is brimming & overflowing!).

Significance: Worship to the Sun is a form of ushering in and sustaining abundance in the new seasons. Farmers pray for their upcoming seasons crops to flourish whereas spiritually you pray for your upcoming seasons plans to grow & succeed with the blessed energy of the Sun. Boiling and letting the milk overflow signifies abundance entering and overflowing in all aspects of your life. You are literally preparing yourself to receive all joys & happiness!

3. Maatu Pongal - The 3rd day is a day dedicated to the worship of cows & bulls, who are super important and responsible for ploughing the fields traditionally (milk & milk products are obtained from cow's milk, which helps sustaining farmers' livelihood better). Cows and Bulls are decorated with garlands. We touch their feet as a mark of respect for them (and they get a well deserved day off!). Aarti (ritualistic camphor/lamp fire directed towards the Divine) is shown to these animals and they then eat Pongal.

Significance: We learn to respect the integral players in our ecosystem and acknowledge the role every single being plays in making our lives better. We look beyond us, see the big picture and surrender in awe at the beauty of how various lives intertwine to make this world happen, as we know it!

4. Kaanum Pongal / Uzhavar Thirunal (in TN) - In general, it's a day for family, togetherness, and enjoyment, full of positivity and cheer. It is a day off for farmers, where they celebrate with their families, enjoying their harvests and many go to the rivers/waterbodies closest to them (River Kaveri being a hotspot), bow down to the River, thank its waters for sustaining agriculture and enjoy the day with well earned rest.

Significance: Kaanum Pongal is a day of rest for the mind and soul, to recollect the ups and downs, relive memories, take forward the lessons and chuck out the bitterness. It is the final day of preparing oneself to work towards the blessings and manifestations they desire. As the saying goes, when the devotee takes one step forward with firm faith & conviction, God takes 10 steps forward towards the devotee with joy. It is not that God isn't keeping an eye out for us, He always is. However, living in the egoistic & materialistic world we are in, God sees which one of us remember Him and reach out to Him for help, with utter surrender, faith and knowing, that help (& much more) will be received. This is the intention behind doing the work to receive the abundance!

If you've been following the words we had intentionally written in bold, you can now put together the cyclic 4-phase spiritual significance of the 4 days of Pongal:

Let Go (of the unnecessary),

Prepare (for the abundance),

Surrender (to the Divine Big Picture) &

Work (towards attaining your dreams & goals).

These 4 phases are present in all seasons of our life, but intentionally disciplining yourself to go with these phases will help you thrive while navigating uncertainty, turbulence & beyond.

We had great fun putting together this post and we are glad you enjoyed reading it!


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