The onset of Pongal being calculated in the solar calendar is with slight variations with the Gregorian calendar, it generally falls between 13th and 16th January. “Bhogi” is the primary function which tells the onset of big things to come. Rural folks generally never throw away used items like tools, kitchen-utensils, torn dress, old brooms etc, but bhogi is for them to discard all these useless things and do a thorough cleaning to their home and surroundings, a rural “ring out the old, ring in the new”.
This day is the first of the celebrations which meant to worship the “Sun-god”. In the morning itself people decorate the entrance to their house with beautiful designs drawn with rice-powder (these designs are known as kolam). This work is the fiefdom of the girls they perform it waking up early in the morning taking bathe and wearing new dress that is purchased for the festival. The special food for Pongal is the gruel made of rice and molasses. The pot with the mixture is so boiled that the contents spill over the pot. This spilling is what called Pongal (rising) at that time all in the home loudly cheer and say Pongal O Pongal!
Thai-Pongal is left for the plants, it is this day saplings are planted and it is believed that those planted on this day flourish, As the village life is in-separable from their cattle and their plants and trees, villagers have left one day each to both of them. There is one more day which is perhaps the most important, what is that? Let us see!
Mattu-Pongal is the day for the cattle (madu in Tamil means cattle), the rural folks get their cattle thoroughly washed and decorate their forehead with saffron and feed them with special food as much as they like! Cattle sheds are also given face-lift. Bullocks which work in the fields are given a full day’s rest, a rare holiday for these beasts of burden!
This day is for human relationships, on this day people visit their relatives and get engaged in pleasantries. Elder ones exchange gifts to youngsters and they spend time in discussing old events and times, the cup of nostalgia overflows some weep and some laugh! Girls married off to distant places often get a chance to visit their ancestral homes by the grace of this Kanum-Pongal.
It seems really wonderful to see that how old rituals have evolved to make man a better being by sparing a day to each of them, one for cleaning, one for celebration, one for plants, one for animals and the last for human-relationships! Let the Pongals live for ever! Along with them the pleasures of rural life!
And now this celebration has crossed the borders and has become the main ritual in the temples of southern Kerala, only that the pronunciation changed to ‘Pongaala’ . The Pongaala of ‘Aattukal’ of