Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Have A Blessed & Wonderful Pongal
The first day of Pongal known as 'Bhogi Pongal' is a day for family gathering and is dedicated to Lord Indra, the king of the deities and God of the Clouds and Rains. It is also the beginning of the New Year according to the Malayalam calendar and before sunrise, a huge bonfire of useless things in home is lit that is kept burning throughout the night. The houses are then cleaned till they shine and are decorated with Kolams painted using rice four. The harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in for next day.
The second day of Pongal known as 'Surya Pongal' is dedicated to the Sun God. The granaries are kept full on this day and Sun God with his rays are painted on a plank as he is worshipped with the birth of the new auspicious month of Thai. Since the word 'Ponga' means 'to boil' representing plentiful and excess yield, a special dish is cooked on this day in a new mud-pot that comes in innovative shapes and have artistic designs on them called 'Pongapani'. A colorful sugarcane market is also set up on this day. The special dish is called 'Sarkkarai Pongal' and is offered to Sun God with sugarcane sticks.
The third day known as 'Mattu Pongal' is dedicated to the cattle as cowherds and shepherds pay thanks to their cows and bulls, wash them, paint their horns and cover them with shining metal caps. They are fed 'pongal' and tinkling bells are tied around their neck. Cattle races are conducted and in the game called 'Manji Virattu' groups of young men chase running bulls. Bull fights called 'Jallikattu' are also arranged at some places where young men have to take the money bags tied to the horns of ferocious bulls single-handedly and without the use of arms.
The third day is celebrated as 'Kanni Pongal' when unmarried girls cooks Ponggal wishing for wedding bells soon.
Pongal, as all Indian festivals, have interesting legends attached to it. Originated as a Dravidian harvest festival, it has found no mention in Indo-Aryan Puranas. According to the popular legend, the first day of the festival known as Bhogi Pongal was once dedicated to Lord Indra. The child Krishna came to know of the pride and arrogance of Indra on being the king of the deities and that he thought himself to be the most powerful of all the beings. He conjured a plan to teach him a lesson. When, as usual, his father and other villagers who were cowherds by profession, were preparing for the festival and offerings to Indra, Krishna objected and persuaded them to worship Mt Govardhan instead, as it gave them fodder for their cattle. When Indra came to know of this, he considered it a heresy of the villagers and sent thunderous pours, storms and lightning to drown them and punish them.
However, Lord Krishna had other plans in mind and he lifted up the Govardhan mountain on his little finger to protect the cowherds and their cattle. The simpletons tried to help him by putting their own sticks in the mountain out of love. The rains continued for three days and at last Indra realized his mistake and divine power of the young boy. He promised humility and begged Krishna's forgiveness. Since then, Krishna allowed to let the Bhogi celebrations continue in honor of Indra. A beautiful depiction of the scene can be scene at Mahabalipuram where Krishna lifting Govardhan has been carved skilfully and since then the origin of the festival of Pongal came into being.
Another legend associated to the third day of Pongal known as Mattu Pongal involves Lord Shiva and his mount, Nandi the bull. It is said that once Shiva ordered Nandi to go to the Earth and deliver his message to the people that they should take oil bath every day and eat food once a month. However, the dozing Nandi could not hear the message right and told the people to eat everyday and take oil bath once a month. Shiva was furious and said that due to his folly, there will be lack of grains on the Earth and so he would have to remain on Earth to help humans plough the fields.