Thai Pongal – A Festival of Gratitude to Surya

Thai Pongal Festival Dance

Celebrated on an auspicious day mid-January, Thai Pongal தைப்பொங்கல் or Pongal பொங்கல்) unites Tamils all across Sri Lanka in an ardent prayer of  thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. Spanning three days, the celebrations pay tribute to the Sun, ‘Surya’ while paying homage to cattle for their vital role in agriculture and farming. For those who do not belong to agricultural communities the festival provides them with the opportunity to express their thanks to the farmers for producing food for their sustenance. Thai Pongal is truly a family festival, where every member from the very young to the elderly participates with devotion and joy.

The festival is held on the first day of ‘Thai’ (the tenth month of the Tamil calendar), marking the commencement of the Sun’s northward journey from its southernmost end, referred to as ‘Uttarayana’. A new clay pot of milk is boiled to mark the beginning of the festivities, and it is considered a sign of good fortune when the milk boils over, bringing in the reference to ‘Pongal’.

Bhogi

Bhogi is the first day of this festival and heralds in the coming events. Homes get a cleaning and dressing up with coats of new paint, curtains, etc and the family members buy or sew new clothes. Everything is set for the Pongal pooja to be held the next morning, and decorations, mostly made up of banana and mango leaves according to the tradition that has been followed over several generations, are put up at the entrance. New vessels are purchased, old ones are discarded and a spirit of anticipation pervades each home…

Perum Pongal – highlight of the festivities

As the festival day dawns the interior of every home is sprayed with turmeric water (known for its disinfectant properties) and the family gathers in front of the main entrance where a square area on the floor is prepared for them to create a decoration known as Kolam. This is a colourful design depicting themes relevant to the festival using coloured rice flour outlined with clay. All the elements that are part of the Pongal offering to the Sun are placed around this, ready to be offered at his rising, which is why they are placed in the path of direct sunlight. This day is also called Surya Pongal, as it is a tribute to the Sun  Surya and his two consorts Chaya and Samgnya.

A new clay pot is decorated and prepared for the role of utmost importance it will play in the festivities, and is placed on a makeshift hearth made up of three bricks and placed in the area reserved for the offering. Once the milk in the pot boils over, rice, jaggery, raisins, cashew nuts and mung dhal are added to make the delicious Pongal dish which is shared by the family and visitors to the home. A range of other savouries and sweetmeats too such as vadai, murukku and payasam are part of the traditional Pongal spread and are prepared according to recipes handed down through generations of Tamils. The lilting strains of Pajans (devotional songs) accompany the morning’s activities, and the rest of the day is spent in fellowship with family, relatives and friends after visiting the Kovil (Temple) where more prayers of thanksgiving are offered. An interesting fact is that even though the Pongal dish is prepared in every Tamil household, sharing the food prepared in one another’s home is an important part of the event.

Patti Pongal / Mattu Pongal  

Known as Patti Pongal or Mattu Pongal (மாட்டுப் பொங்கல்), the second day of Thai Pongal is devoted to cattle  who play an integral role in agriculture and farming, providing dairy products and fertilizer whilst lending their strength toward ploughing and transporting goods by drawing carts. The day serves as an appreciation of their hard work and to beseech their favour in continuing to do so during the forthcoming season of cultivation. The community felicitates these amazing creatures with garlands to adorn their necks and Kungumam (kumkum) for their foreheads,  feeding them with a special festive mixture consisting of venn pongal, honey, jaggery, banana and other fruits. Even their appearance is enhanced in a special way by bathing them and painting their horns in a colourful manner. Friendly competitions are held during the day involving the cows and young men of the village, bringing together man and beast in a spirit of harmony and reverence.

A great time to visit

At this time of Thai Pongal the land is filled with a sense of gratitude and hope. A new year has begun and there is much to experience in this beautiful island. Tourslanka offers a variety of packages to select from, making it the perfect time to be here and absorb a whole new cultural experience.

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