Tamil Thai Pongal Day ? A Festival of Reunion, Renewal and Thanksgiving
Thai Pongal is a Tamil festival celebrating the first day of the month of Thai according to the Tamil Almanac. This usually falls in mid-January of the Gregorian calendar. Pongal refers to the sweet-meat of rice and milk mixed with moongdal and jaggery that is the signature dish of the festival.
This is a thanksgiving festival celebrating the month of harvest, as a harbinger of prosperity. Its core is free of particular religious connotations so Tamils all around the world celebrate it in much the same fashion. This is why Thai Pongal is widely known as the “festival of the Tamils”.
This festival encompasses two days during which the farmers give thanks to the nature spirit, the Sun God and the farm animals for the successful reaping of a rich harvest. People who do not farm in turn give thanks to the farmers for the food. In this manner, the festival encourages unity and social cohesiveness.
Owing to the significant minority of Tamils in the demographic make-up of Sri Lanka, Thai Pongal is one of the red-letter events in the national calendar. Celebrated over two public holidays, Sri Lankan Tamils also call this the First Rice Festival or Ulavar Thirunaal, as rice is one of the staples of local agriculture around which several deities and legends have evolved. However, the Sri Lankans and their Indian counterparts observe much the same traditions and customs with regards to the festival.
The solstice begins when the revolution of the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn, which signals the Tamil farmers to honor Suriyapakaran, the Sun God. Although, this actually happens in late December, the festival itself is held in mid-January to coincide with the harvesting of the rice fields.
Traditionally, the Tamil householders don new clothes specifically bought for the occasion after bathing, gather at sunrise to watch as the clay pot of milk rice boils over to delighted cries of “Pongal! Pongal!” This ritual signifies the overflow of abundance with which God and Mother Earth has blessed them. Although every household makes this rice, it is liberally shared with their neighbours and each other, promoting communal harmony and togetherness.
Familial reunion and blessings are a major theme of the holiday. People visit their relatives and friends and younger ones show respect to the elders and receive their blessings in return.
The front garden is usually decorated in kolam drawings and a brick hearth set up in advance preparation for this ceremony. Kolam, or Rangoli drawings, are created with rice flour paste with a lump of cow dung at its centre. A pumpkin flower, a symbol of fertility and love, is placed atop the dung (highly prized as fertilizer), while the paste is expected to be eaten by ants and other insects in order to further the merit and blessings upon the house.
The second day of the festival is called “Maatu Pongal”, which means festival of the cattle. This day is set aside to appreciate and honour the animals who assisted in the harvest. The oxen are bathed and their horns painted in colourful hues of red, blue, green and yellow. Their foreheads are anointed with turmeric and they are garlanded with flowers before being offered a traditional “pooja” or offering of fruit and other foods.
In Sri Lanka, Thai Pongal can be best observed in either the north regions or the hill country areas of Hatton and Thalawakele, which are notable hubs of the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Those staying at Nuwara Eliya hotels at the beginning of the year will also be able to enjoy the horse racing and family parties that are held during this season. Jetwing St. Andrews is a hotel Nuwara Eliya Sri Lanka that offers high-quality accommodation and services to the discerning visitor.
Pushpitha Wijesinghe is an experienced independent freelance writer. He specializes in providing a wide variety of content and articles related to the travel hospitality industry.
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