Saturday, January 14, 2012


Traditionally cooked Ponggal
Growing up, I remember this festival as the rice cooking festival and I was given the task to watch my little sister not to go anywhere near the clay pot when it boils over. Some years the "pongal" was too sweet. I disliked it though I loved the nuts that came with it. One year after another, mum made no "pongal" traditionally anymore and later the stove took over. Those were my fondest memories of pongal. 

Traditionally, "pongal" is more of a south Indian festival mainly celebrated in state of Tamil Nadu. It is always celebrated on the 14th or 15th of January each year signifying the beginning of the Thai matham. (the 10th month in the Tamil calendar).

Generally in India, pongal continues for 4 days beginning with Bhogi Ponggal, Surya Pongal, Mattu Ponggal and Kannum pongal.  

Bhogi Pandigai. Day 1.

I remember watching Bhogi fesitval in the movie Talaphati. It's the burn everything festival. Little did I know that this is actually part of the pongal festival in India. Bhogi is said to be celebrated in honor of the God Indra (The ruler of clouds and the giver of Rain). If my memory serves me right, in the movie, a huge bonfire is lit in front of the house and old and useless items are set ablaze, a symbolic way of ushering the new year. Houses are cleaned, painted and decorated. The bonfire burns through the night as young people beat drums and dance around it. Of course, in Talapathi, Rajini sings the Rakama song. ;p Well, as much as I think it gives young people the ability to exercise their creative freedom by singing and dancing, in this 21st century, I think Bhogi is rather obsolete mainly because it is SOO unenvironmentally friendly and while you may think that pair of shoes is useless and should end up in fire, someone else might actually want it. Besides, houses should always be clean and decorated albeit any festival. ;p

Surya Pongal. Day 2.

This is widely celebrated in Malaysia where Indian mothers often get up early, and set up their pongal panai (pongal pot) on planks traditionally outside the house overlooking the sun at sunrise. (This was how my mum did it when we were young) and we sisters would crowd around the pot waiting for it to boil. It was that exciting =) I also remember my dad changing the mango leaves in front of the house and mum drawing Kolam using rice flour. Mum said the rice flour will be eaten by ants later. In India, Surya Pongal is of utmost importance as a vast majority of the population here are farmers and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Hence, Pongal was celebrated to give thanks to the Sun god for the plentiful harvest. A typical scenario in a village in India, would see farmers bringing newly harvested rice back home to be made into pongal. "Pongal" comes from the word "ponga" which literally means 'to boil till it spills'. This harvested rice will be cooked in a clay pot along with milk, sugar, raisins, cashew nuts, cardamon and other essential condiments. When the  the milk boils and spills over, the term "ponggolo pongal" is often uttered akin to say let it boil, let it spill and the grains of rice is then added into the pot. The spillover signifies abundance of household prosperity and good luck. This rice dish also named 'Pongal' will then be served to the God during prayers and later eaten as a prasatham (blessing) by everyone in the family or village. In India, even the cattle are fed with pongal on this day. 

The folks gather around the pot to say "ponggolo pongal"

Elsehwere in India, this four days festival is celebrated as 

Makara Sankrathi (The sun is purportedly said to enter the 10th house of the Indian constellation  i.e Makaram or Capricon on this day) in Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Kerala, Bihar, Goa, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh.

Uttarayana (meaning the  beginning of the northward journey of the Sun from its southernmost-limit and is linked to winter solstice) in Rajastan and Gujarat.  

Lohri in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.

Bhogali Bahu-Assam 

Mattu Pongal. Day 3.

Jallikattu Kaalai: Professionals only please ;p
This third day is meant for the cattle (mattu) and is not often celebrated in Malaysia as Indians here are not largely farmers or cowherds. In India, the cattle are given a good bath, their horns polished and garlands are put around their necks. They are fed with pongal and taken out for cattle race and bullfight. Basically, "they" are celebrated for their hard work. If you're a fan of Tamil movies or have watched a commendable number of Tamil movies growing up such as Murratu Kaalai starring our superstar Rajinikanth, you'd have heard the term "Jallikattu" kaalai. Allow me to enlighten you that Jallikattu kaalai (bull) is a bull taming sport which could be traced as far back during the Indus-Valley civilization. The term Jallikattu originated from Salli Kasu (coins) and Kattu (tied) which was then tied to the horns as the prize of the competition. This sport is believed to be one of the oldest living ancient sport played in the modern era till today. Although it sounds similar to the Spanish running of the bulls, the contender is to tame the bulls without the use of any weapon and no bull is actually harmed in the process. However,humans have died in the name of pongal fun. Normally, the bulls for this purpose belong to a specific type of species whose basic nature are to attack. 

Kannum Pongal. Day4.

Now, a misnomer. It isn't Kanni pongal. See, growing up, I knew this day as Kanni (Virgin Girl) pongal from what I've heard till moments ago when I actually did my own research. It has got nothing to do with virgin girls at all. In contradiction, the word Kannum means to view. Generally, this is a time for reunion. Historically, this day started out as a village festival, where farmers give thanks to their relatives and brothers by means of food, clothes and money for their support in the harvest. In the modern days now, this day is synonymous with people having a day out with their families. In Malaysia, however many of the Indians still believe its the Virgin Girl pongal. LOL.


  1. Very lovely site, interesting & informative description. Please keep it up.

  2. Thank you for your support,Jeet ;)