Thai Pongal: Not simply the 2nd public holiday for the year 2023
What is on the 15th of January? Some may think it is already the 2nd public holiday for 2023. But for most people, it is much more than a simple holiday. Especially for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and India, it is the day to celebrate Thai Pongal, a Hindu harvest festival. Thai Pongal is celebrated at the start of the month ‘Thai’ according to Tamil Solar Calendar, usually on the 14th or 15th, depending on the sun’s orbit around the earth that particular year. The celebrations are dedicated to the sun god, Surya, who blesses the farmers with sunlight to yield a good harvest. Moreover, the farm animals and nature are greatly admired and given offerings to show gratitude. The festival continues for three to four days, specifically known as Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal, Mattu Pongal and Kanum Pongal.
Bhogi Pongal is the first day of celebration, where houses are cleaned and arranged for the following day’s ‘pooja’ and rituals. The houses are decorated with flower garlands, banana and mango leaves and ‘kolam’ are drawn on the front yards. The second day is dedicated to the Hindu sun god Surya. On this day, farmers offer the first harvest of their cultivation to the sun in the form of cooked sweet rice. As the first step of Pongal rice making, they place a pot on a temporary heart, mostly made of three bricks. Then the milk is boiled till it overflows the pot, symbolising prosperity and abundance. The Pongal rice is flavoured with jaggery, raisins, cashew nuts and Mung dhal and shared among family and friends. The traditional Pongal feast also includes sweetmeats such as ‘vade’, ‘murukku’ and ‘payasam’. The next day is Mattu Pongal, dedicated to cattle that play an essential role in agriculture and farming by facilitating tasks like ploughing and providing fertilisers. Tamils honour these magnificent creatures by putting on garlands, painting their horns and feeding them a special mixture of Pongal sweetmeats and fruits. Kanum Pongal is the fourth and the last day of celebrations. As suggested by the word ‘Kanum’ or ‘to visit’, on this day, many families get together for reunions. The elders greet each other while children go out to pay respect to their seniors and to seek their blessings.
Even though Sri Lankan Tamils have acquired this tradition from India, Sri Lankan rituals have their own flavours. Unlike Indians, Sri Lankans keep Thai Pongal as a two-day celebration. However, for everyone, it is a day of merriment and excitement despite different ways of celebration and rituals.