Thai Pongal

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For the dish, see Pongal (dish).
Thai Pongal
Observed by Tamils
Type Festival, Tamil People Tamil Nadu, India. Sri Lankan Tamils, Sri Lanka
Significance Harvest festival. Thanking the sun for agricultural abundance
Celebrations Feasting, gift-giving, visiting homes
Date First day of the tenth month of Thai in the Tamil calendar
2013 date 14 January
2014 date 14 January
2015 date 15 January

Thai Pongal (தை பொங்கல்)is a harvest festival celebrated by Tamil people at the end of the harvest season. [1] It is a four-day festival which runs from last day of the month Maargazhi to the third day of the month Thai on the Tamil calendar, and generally from January 13 to January 16 on the Gregorian calendar. The second of the four days, the first day of Thai, is the main day of the festival and called Pongal. Pongal Festival is not a religious festival, it is the cultural festival (dravidian cultural (Tamil)). This is one and only the festival celebrated worldwide by Tamil peoples.

Thai Pongal is primarily celebrated to convey appreciation and thankfulness to the Sun as the primary energy source of agriculture and good harvests. 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" and signifies abundance and prosperity. On the day of Pongal, there is a symbolic ritual of boiling fresh milk in a new clay pot at sunrise. When the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, people shout "Pongalo Pongal!"[4] Observers also often say "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum", which means "the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities". Tamilians celebrate the festival by decorating their homes with banana and mango leaves and by embellishing the floor with decorative patterns drawn with rice flour.[2]


Pongal marks the beginning of the northward journey of the Sun from its southernmost-limit, a movement traditionally referred to as uttarayana.[5] It is usually held from January 13–16 in the Gregorian calendar i.e. from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of Thai.[6]

The history of the festival may be over 1000 years old. Epigraphic evidence suggests that a festival called Puthiyeedu took place during the days of the Medieval Chola. It is believed that Puthiyeedu meant the "first harvest of the year".[7] The link between that past and today's harvest festival needs to be further researched. Tamils refer to Pongal as "Tamizhar Thirunaal", which means "the festival of Tamils".[8] Thai Pongal is primarily celebrated to convey appreciation and thankfulness to the sun, which is personified as "Pratyaksha Brahman", the manifest God who transcends time and who rotates the proverbial wheel of time. The second and primary day of Thai Pongal is called Pongal. This day coincides with Makara Sankranthi, a winter harvest festival celebrated throughout India.[9] The day marks the start of sun’s six-month long journey northward, called the Uttarayanam. The day also represents the Indic solstice, when the sun purportedly enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac, Makara.


Kolam decorations in front of house during Thai Pongal

Thai refers to the name of the tenth month in the Tamil calendar, Thai (தை).[5] Pongal in Tamil generally refers to festivity;[10] more specifically Pongal means "boiling over" or "overflow". The boiling over of milk in the clay pot symbolizes material abundance for the household.[5] Pongal is also the name of a sweetened dish of rice boiled with lentils which is ritually consumed on this day.[9] Symbolically, pongal signifies the warming i.e. boiling of the season as the Sun travels northward towards the equinox.[5]

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 dish[edit]

Main article: Pongal (dish)
Pongal being cooked in a city home.

The pongal dish traditionally consumed during Thai Pongal is made with rice, milk, cardamom, jaggery, raisins, green gram, and cashew nuts. Cooking is traditionally done in sunlight, usually in a porch or courtyard, because the dish is dedicated to the sun Surya. The dish is prepared in a clay pot which is decorated with colored patterns called kolam. There are two versions of pongal, one sweet and the other savory. The prepared dish is served on banana leaves. In addition to Thai Pongal celebrations, pongal is served at Hindu temples during any temple festival in Tamil Nadu.

Pongal wishes and greetings[edit]

In the Tamil language, people wish each other "Iniya Pongal Nalvazhthukkal" (இனிய பொங்கல் நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்) which in English means "happy Pongal", or by saying "Pongal Vazhthukkal" (பொங்கல் வாழ்த்துக்கள்) which means "Pongal wishes" or "Pongal greetings."

Days of Thai Pongal[edit]

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


Bhogi, also known as Bhogi Pandigai, is the first day of Thai Pongal. On this day, people discard old things and focus on new belongings. The disposal of derelict things is similar to the celebration of Holika Dahan in North India. People assemble at dawn in Tamil Nadu to light a bonfire and discard old and used possessions. Houses are cleaned, painted and decorated for a festive look. In villages, the horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in bright colours.

The fruits from the harvest are collected 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 tradition is observed on the same day in Andhra Pradesh where it is also called Bhogi. The day is also celebrated in Punjab as Lohri and in Assam as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu.

Pongal Pandigai[edit]

Newly cooked rice and savouries prepped for celebrating pongal.

The second day of Thai Pongal is the main day of the festival and eponymously named Pongal. It falls on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai and usually on either January 14 or 15. It is celebrated by preparing a sweet dish of boiling rice, also known as "pongal", in new clay pots. The dish is traditionally cooked at sunrise, and the rice is later topped with sugar, ghee, cashew nuts and raisins. This tradition gives Pongal its name.

The moment the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout "Pongalo Pongal!", add freshly harvested rice grains in the pot, and blow the sanggu (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 also prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, murukku, and paayasam, visit each other, and exchange greetings.

Tamils draw kolam or rangoli on their door steps, consume sugar cane, prepare sweetened rice, milk and jaggery in new earthen pots and dedicate their work to the sun god. Elders in the family 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.

Maatu Pongal[edit]

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

The third day of Tamil Pongal is called Maattu Pongal and is a day intended to celebrate cattle and thank them for their favour in farming. Cattle play an important role in the traditional Indian farmstead due to their provision of dairy products, provision of fertilizer, and use in ploughing and transport.

People bathe their cattle, paint their horns with colorful paints, decorate them with garlands and shikakai, and place kumkum on their foreheads. The cattle are fed a mixture of venn pongal, jaggery, honey, bananas, and other fruit. In rural Tamil Nadu, adventurous games such as "Jallikkattu" or "taming the wild bull" are features of the day. Kanu Pidi is a tradition that ladies and young girls follow. Women place different kinds of colored rice, cooked vegetables, bananas, and sweet pongal on ginger or turmeric leaves to attract crows, which descend in hordes to share and enjoy the "Kaka pidi, Kanu pidi" feast. The women then pray for the well being of their brothers and for their brother-sister ties to remain forever strong like the family of crows.

In the evening, people offer prayings to figurines of Lord Ganesh. All the cattle of the village are gathered together and are fed and decorated. People make torches out of coconut leaves, run around the cattle thrice, and then run to the border of the village.

Kaanum Pongal[edit]

The final day of Thai Pongal, called Kaanum Pongal, is a time for family reunions in Tamil Nadu. Kaanum in this context means "to visit", and Kaanum Pongal is meant as a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. Observers visit their relatives and friends to celebrate. Although it started as a farmers festival, the day has become a national festival for all Tamils irrespective of their origins or even religion. It is as popular in urban areas as it is in rural areas. This festival also marks the end of Thai Pongal festivities for the year. On this day, brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as affirmations of their filial love. Landlords present gifts of food, clothes and money to their workforce. In the cities, people flock to beaches and theme parks to have a day out with their families. People also chew sugar cane and decorate their houses with kolam.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b c d Raman, Varadaraja (June 2005). Variety in Religion and Science: Daily Reflections. iUniverse. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-0-595-35840-3. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  6. ^ "Thai Pongal". Daily News, Sri Lanka. 
  7. ^ "Thai Pongal". 
  8. ^ "Tamils festival". 
  9. ^ a b Trawicky, Bernard; Gregory, Ruth Wilhelme (2000). Anniversaries and holidays. ALA Editions. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8389-0695-8. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  10. ^ 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.