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Ben van Wijnen

Pongal or Ponggal also known as Makara Sankranti is celebrated in mid-January by festival marking the rice harvest. So it is a harvest festival to give thanks to the Sun God, named Surya, for a bountiful harvest. It is celebrated by Hindu people from India. Pongal, a mixture of sweet boiled rice is made and offered to  the Sun God. The name is derived from the Tamil word pongu, meaning "boil over" or "flourish."

New clothes are donned and festivity fills the air in the house during Pongal. A colourful kolam is made out of rice paste, outlining Surya's chariot.
In the centre of this is placed a clay pot or Pongal panaai over an earthen stove. The pot is filled with milk and fresh rice and adorned with ginger and tumeric stalks.
While the newly harvested rice grains boil in milk, brown sugar or jaggery is added along with cashew nuts, raisins and ghee. As the rice mixture boils furiously frothing freely over the pot, family members cry out "pongollo pongal". This is a celebratory cheer which literally means "may this rice boil over". And this is a wish for overflowing fortunes for the family. Visitors greet each other with "paal pongitha?" Which means: "Has the milk boiled over in your house?"
Traditionally, the rice is cooked over a brick stove in the open yard of the house.



The Pongal should be cooked outdoors on a tri-sugarcane structure using natural fire from charcoal or wood but many do it indoors due to convenience. It is a form of thanksgiving to the sun and nature for giving us food.

Oil lamps are lit and placed along the perimeter of the house. In India, the landlords distribute clothes, food and money as a symbol of goodwill to the workers. Apart from the Pongal, sugar cane, spices, vegetables are also offered to the deities for thanksgiving.
Offerings are also made at the local temples, where a delightful array of vibrant-coloured sarees adds life to the high-spirited atmosphere.

Pongal is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil calendar in the month of Thai. The Festival is celebrated in mid-January. The festivities can be caught at large Hindu temples.

The first day it is celebrated for the harvested crops and share with friends and relatives. The main feature of this festival is the boiling of milk in a clay pot until it overflows when the family members gathered round the pot shouting, ”Pongalo  Pongal” then add rice to it. In Tamil means boiling and overflowing.

The second day known as Mattu Pongal, cows are worshipped and given the offerings. This is the time when villages decorate the cows and also the elders seek God’s blessing for their children. The cow is a sacred animal in the culture of India. The day is dedicated to honour the cows for their contribution in our lives. The cows are given a bath, their horns painted and they are decorated with garlands. 

And on the third day known as Kanni Pongal, young ladies prays for a good life and a dashing great husband. The young unmarried ladies make Pongal and wear new clothes, gold and silver ornaments. The unmarried ladies will have special prayers for their future marriage.

In India, Pongal is celebrated on a big scale, even merrier than Deepavali especially the Mattu Pongal with a lot of games and activities because many depend on cows for their livelihood. In Malaysia, the Pongal celebration is for most, a modest affair.



Shops in Little India are lined with traders selling earthern pots
with some colourfully decorated and hundreds of sugar canes
to meet the demand of the Hindus who will be celebrating the Pongal festival.

Have a look also: DEEPAVALI <click>


    Ben van Wijnen


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