Pandigai in Tamil means festival.
India is a bountiful landmass. Its no wonder that we have harvest festivals with rituals that revolve around getting a bumper crop and appreciation of livestock. Pongal is a harvest festival and it’s a four day celebration. The days are not always consecutive.
Day one – Boghi also spelt as Bhogi
Bhogi is the first day of the 4 day Pongal pandigai. The day is dedicated to Indra Deva. Farmers seek Indra’s blessings for sufficient rain that leads to a bumper crop. The celebrations on Bhogi also include burning old clothes/things. The bonfire is symbolic and in many places the practise has been discontinued. Since Boghi is the last day of the Margazhi month, the hope is that we let go of old hurts, bad actions and misgivings post reflection and transform into a new person !
When you light a bonfire with all the old stuff on Bhogi day, it marks a break with the past. After a month of reflection and introspection, you are ready to take on new decisions and move forward.
Food on Boghi – Its usually sweet potato “Poli” that’s specially made for Boghi besides the other preparations like Vadai and Sweet Pongal.
Day Two – Thai Pongal
Pongal is celebrated at the end of the harvest season in TamilNadu. It coincides with the Makara Sankranti celebrations across other parts of India. The meaning of the word Pongal is “boiling over” or “rising over”. Here it means the pot of rice, lentils and milk boils over. That’s also why the greeting is “Pongal-o-Pongal”. The prayer is that happiness and good things overflow.
Its dedicated to Surya, the Sun. Pongal day is the first day of the month of “Thai” and its on this day that the Sun starts its journey towards the northern hemisphere, also called “Uttarayana”.
The traditional Pongal is made on a stove outside the house in either a clay pot or Bronze vessel decorated with turmeric pods, turmeric leaves and sugarcane pieces.
A Kolam of Suryan (Sun) and Chandran (Moon) is drawn and rice, moong dal, Jeera, Pepper, Ghee, Curry leaves, Ginger and milk is put into a clay pot or a vengala (Bronze) paanai (pot). All family members gather around and shout “Pongal-o-pongal”.
Food on Pongal day – Ven Pongal (salty version) and Chakkarai Pongal (Sweet version) are definitely made. Some of us make Aviyal, Kootu, Raw Banana dry curry etc besides plain rice.
Day Three – Maatu Pongal and Kanu Pidi
The day after Pongal is “Mattu Pongal” where cows are decorated and worshipped, its a form of thanksgiving to the cows and bulls that help the farmers.
The cows are bathed and decorated colourfully. The bulls are also decorated and the famous “Jallikattu”, the bull taming sport is held in several villages across TamilNadu. Usually the “boom-boom” maatukaran (a wanderer who makes a living using a decorated bull) will visit homes on this day because he will be given food, dry rations or clothes.
Kanu Pidi is celebrated by the Brahmin community. We make two or three different coloured rice – white, yellow and red. These are made into tiny balls and kept outside on Turmeric leaves. We call out to crows to come and eat the rice balls and bless our family, particularly siblings and the extended family.
Crows never eat alone, they get their entire clan together and eat, so we pray that our families stay close and together like the crows as they feed on the rice balls.
Day four – Kaanum Pongal
This is of recent origin. On day four, people in TamilNadu go out to the beach or some exhibition etc, to see the sights around town and carry a picnic with them.
I was told by my young weaver friend Gopinath, that for nearly a week starting Boghi Day, all the weavers in Arani stop weaving and celebrate Pongal. They go out to Chennai and other places to visit temples and do some sight seeing. Its their annual holiday !! The looms are restarted on an auspicious day during “Valarpirai” – the waxing moon.
May this Pongal pandigai bring a bumper crop to all our farmers, abundant happiness and good health to all.