Last modified on 22 December 2014, at 02:04

Thai Pongal

For the dish, see Pongal (dish).
Thai Pongal
Observed by Tamils
Type Festival, Tamil People Tamil Nadu, India. Sri Lankan Tamils, Sri Lanka

Harvest festival. Thanking the Sun God for agricultural abundance

4 days long
Celebrations Feasting, gift-giving, visiting homes
Date First day of the tenth month of Thai in the Tamil calendar
2015 date 14 January

Thai Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated by Tamil people at the end of the harvest season. [1] Pongal is a four day festival which usually takes place from January 13 to 16 in the Gregorian calendar i.e., the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of Tamil month Thai.

The second of the four days i.e., first day of the Tamil month Thai is the second and main day of the festival and this day is known as Thai Pongal. This day coincides with Makara Sankranthi which is a winter harvest festival celebrated throughout India. The day marks the start of sun’s six-month long journey northwards or the Uttarayanam. This also represents the Indic solstice when the sun purportedly enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac i.e. Makara or Capricorn.

It is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Tamil people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry,[2][3] and Sri Lanka.

In Tamil, the word Pongal means "overflowing" which signifies abundance and prosperity. On the day of Pongal, at the time of sun rise there is a symbolic ritual of boiling fresh milk in a new clay pots and when the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, people shout "Pongalo Pongal!"[4] They also say "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum" meaning "the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities" is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival. Thai Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey the appreciation and thankfulness to the Sun God as it act as the primary energy behind agriculture and a good harvest. It is the Surya Mangalyam. Tamilians decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with decorative patterns drawn using rice flour.[2]


The history may well be more than 1000 years old although some are of the view that the festival is older than that. Epigraphic Evidence suggests the celebration of the Puthiyeedu during the Medieval Chola empire days. It is thought that Puthiyeedu meant the first harvest of the year.[5] The link between that past and today's harvest festival needs to be further researched. Tamils refer to Pongal as "Tamizhar Thirunaal" (meaning "the festival of Tamils")[6] Makara Sankranti in turn is referred to in the Surya Siddhanta.


Thai refers to the name of the tenth month in the Tamil calendar, Thai (தை). Pongal in Tamil generally refers to festivity;[7] more specifically Pongal means "boiling over" or "overflow".Pongal is also the name of a sweetened dish of rice boiled with lentils which is ritually consumed on this day. Symbolically, pongal signifies the warming i.e. boiling of the season as the Sun travels northward towards the equinox.

Name Region
Thai Pongal Tamil Nadu
Makara Sankranthi Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Kerala, Bihar, Goa, Karnataka, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh
Uttarayana Gujarat and Rajasthan
Lohri Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab
Magh Bihu/Bhogali Bihu Assam
Maghe Sankranti or Makar Sankranti Nepal

Pongal dishEdit

Main article: Pongal (dish)
Steaming rice for Pongal

Besides rice and milk the ingredients of the sweet dish Pongal dish include cardamom, jaggery, raisins, Green gram (split), and cashew nuts. Cooking is done in sunlight, usually in a porch or courtyard, as the dish is dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. The cooking is done in a clay pot which is decorated with coloured patterns called kolam. There are two versions of pongal, one sweet the other savoury. The prepared dish is served on banana leaves.

Apart from Pongal Day celebrations, cooking pongal is a traditional practice at Hindu temples during any Temple Festival in Tamil Nadu. The community will convene to cook pongal rice, partake of it and distribute it to those present.


Bhogi Pandigai / Bhogi Pallu / Lohri /

The day preceding Pongal is called Bhogi when people discard old things and focus on new belongings. The disposal of derelict things is similar to Holika in North India. The people assemble at dawn in Tamil Nadu to light a bonfire to discard old used possessions. The house is cleaned, painted and decorated to give a festive look. In villages, the horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in colors and people celebrate it in a grand way as most of them would have their harvest ready or even would have made money out of the harvests.

This tradition is observed on the same day in Andhra Pradesh where it is also called "Bhogi." The fruits from the harvest are collected (such as regi pallu and sugar cane), along with flowers of the season, in a ceremony called Bhogi Pallu Money is often placed into a mixture of Bhogi Pallu, and the mixture is poured over children, who then collect the money and sweet fruits.

This day is celebrated in Punjab as Lohri and in Assam as Magh Bihu / Bhogali Bihu.

Pongal Pandigai

Newly cooked rice and savouries prepped for celebrating pongal.

Pongal itself falls on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai (January 14 or 15). It is celebrated by boiling rice in new clay pots. The rice is later topped with sugar, ghee, cashew nuts and raisins. This tradition gives Pongal its name. The rice is traditionally cooked at sun rise.

The moment the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of "Pongalo Pongal!", introduce freshly harvested rice grains in the pot and blow the sanggu (a conch). Tamils consider it a good sign to watch the milk boil over as it connotes good luck and prosperity. The newly cooked rice is traditionally offered to the Sun God at sunrise to demonstrate gratitude for the harvest. It is later served to the people present in the house for the ceremony. People prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, murukku, paayasam, visit each other and exchange greetings.

Kolam drawn in front of houses
An office in Tamil Nadu decorated for the festival of Thai Pongal

Tamils draw kolams/rangolis on the door step, consume sugar cane, prepare sweetened rice, milk and jaggery in new earthen pots and dedicate it to Sun God. The family elders present gifts to the young. Elsewhere in India, there is kite flying in Gujarat and Andhra, the Jahangir Dance in Punjab and the Ganga Sagar Mela in Bengal. Millions of people immerse themselves in rivers in North India and offer prayers to the Sun God - Suryan. People offer thousands of their colorful oblations to the Sun in the form of beautiful kites.

The Sun stands for “Pratyaksha Brahman” - the manifest God, who symbolizes the one, non-dual, self-effulgent, glorious divinity blessing one and all tirelessly. The Sun is the one who transcends time and also the one who rotates the proverbial wheel of time.

Maatu PongalEdit

Kolam drawn for Maatu Pongal
Youths trying to take control of a bull at a jallikattu event in Alanganallur

Cattle play an important role in the traditional Indian farmstead be it with regards to the provision of dairy products, its use for ploughing and transport and its provision of fertilizer. This explains the Tamil reference to cattle as wealth. On the day after Pongal, cattle are felicitated. In rural Tamil Nadu, adventurous games such as the Jallikkattu or taming the wild bull are features of the day. Maattu Pongal is intended to demonstrate our recognition and affection to cattle and decorate them with garlands, apply kungumam (kumkum) on their foreheads and are feed with a mixture of venn pongal, jaggery,honey,banana and other fruits

Kanu Pidi is a tradition that the ladies and young girls of the house follow. Women feed birds and pray for the well being of their brothers. Women of the family place different kinds of coloured rice, cooked vegetables, banana and sweet pongal on a ginger or turmeric leaf and invite the crows, which descend in hordes to share and enjoy the "Kaka pidi, Kanu pidi" feast. Women offer prayers in the hope that the brother-sister ties may remain forever strong like the family of crows.

Maatu pongal is a festival celebrated together by the villagers to thank the cows for their favour in farming. People bathe their cattle and paint their horns with colourful paints. In the evening people offer prayings to Lord Ganesh made out of mud[clarification needed] and all the cattle of the village are gathered together and are decorated with garland, manjalthanni (turmeric water) only for cows, oil, shikakai, kumkum is applied on the forehead and fed with a mixture of venn pongal, Jaggery, honey, fruits etc. At the people torch out of coconut leaves and burn with fire and run around cattles thrice and run to the border of the village and drop their,[clarification needed] this ritual is performed to remove all Drishti[disambiguation needed].

Kaanum PongalEdit

This is a time for family reunions in Tamil Nadu. Falling on the third day of the Pongal festivities, brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as affirmation of their filial love. Landlords present gifts of food, clothes and money to their workforce. During Kaanum Pongal (the word kaanum in this context means "to visit"), people visit relatives and friends to enjoy the festive season. In the cities this day is synonymous with people flocking to beaches and theme parks to have a day out with their families. They also chew sugar cane and decorate their houses with kolam. This day is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. Although it started as a farmers festival, today it has become a national festival for all Tamils irrespective of their origins or even religion. It is as popular in urban areas as is in rural areas.This festival also marks the end of the Pongal festivities for the year.

In Andhra Pradesh, Mukkanuma, the final day of Sankranthi festival, is celebrated to worship cattle. Mukkanuma is famous among the non-vegetarians of the society. People do not eat any non-vegetarian dishes during the first three days of the festival and eat it only on the day of Mukkanuma.

Pongal Wishes and GreetingsEdit

In Tamil people wish each other Happy Pongal saying Iniya Pongal Nalvazhthukkal (இனிய பொங்கல் நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்) which in English means Happy Pongal or by saying Pongal Vazhthukkal (பொங்கல் வாழ்த்துக்கள்) which in English means Pongal Wishes or Pongal Greetings.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Pongal - Tamil festival". 12 January 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Ellis, Royston (19 July 2011). , 4th: The Bradt Travel Guide. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-84162-346-7. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  3. ^ Richmond, Simon (15 January 2007). Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Lonely Planet. p. 490. ISBN 978-1-74059-708-1. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  4. ^ Pongal Harvest Festival
  5. ^ "Thai Pongal". 
  6. ^ "Tamils festival". 
  7. ^ Sachchidananda; Prasad, R. R. (1996). Encyclopaedic profile of Indian tribes. Discovery Publishing House. p. 183. ISBN 978-81-7141-298-3. Retrieved 3 January 2012.