Pongal is a harvest festival in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, and also in Sri Lanka. It is celebrated in mid-January—either on the 14th or 15th corresponding to the end of the month of Poush or Poush Sankranti. It marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (Uttarayan). It is noted for the celebration of the harvest of crops and a special thanksgiving to God (Lord Krishna or Lord Shiva) and the sun, the earth, and the cattle.
During the same time similar festivals are observed as Bhogali Bihu in Assam, Lohri in Punjab, Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh, and Makar Sankranti in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Bengal.
Pongal is associated with many legends. One of the most popular ones is the legend of Gobardhan Mountain. Lord Krishna lifted the mountain on his little finger on the first day of Pongal called Bhogi, to protect the cattle and people from the anger of the rain-god Indra. There is another legend of Lord Shiva, On the third day of Pongal, Lord Shiva sent Nandi who was in charge of buffaloes, to tell people to have oil bath daily and eat once a month. But Nandi was confused and told people to eat daily and bathe once a month. This angered Shiva. So he placed Nandi on earth to help people plough the fields for harvest. Hence Pongal became a harvest festival.
Pongal is a major celebration in India and Sri Lanka. People celebrate it for about four days. The first day is called Bhogi Pongal. On this day many people burn the old and unused household items to get rid of them and buy new household items. This marks the start of a new cycle of living. The second day is Perum or Surya or Thai Pongal festival. It is the most important day of Pongal. Many people worship the sun god by offering prayers for a good harvest. People also wear new clothes and women decorate houses with Kolam (designs) using rice, flour and red clay. Mattu Pongal is the third day and includes worshipping cattle because it is believed that cattle help give a good harvest. The fourth day is called Kanya Pongal or Kaanum Pongal. It is the final day of the celebration. On this day many people go on a picnic and spend time with families and friends. It also includes exchanging gifts, dancing and buffalo taming contests. Sisters also pray for their brother’s happiness.
This is a time for family reunions in Tamil Nadu. Although it started as a farmers festival, now it has become a national festival for all Tamils irrespective of their origins or even religions. It is popular in rural areas as well as in urban areas. Pongal is not a gazetted holiday across the nation, but it is a religious holiday—particularly in South and Central India for employees. However, schools and colleges in these areas remain closed for all four days of Pongal and business related to agriculture remain closed.