PONGAL: A CHRISTIAN REFLECTION




PONGAL: A CHRISTIAN REFLECTION

Pongal is the only (Hindu) festival that follows the solar calendar. It is a four-day long (January 13-16) harvest or thanksgiving festival celebrated by the Tamils irrespective of religious differences.  The word Pongal means ‘boiling over’. It also connotes the sweet rice dish prepared on this special occasion.
Pongal is also often called as Makara Sankaranti. It is the time when the sun enters the sign of Makara or Capricorn from Sagittarius.  In other words, it is the sun’s northern course in the heavens known as the Uttarayana Patha, which period is considered auspicious. Each of its four-day celebrations involves varied rituals.
The first day is called Bogi or bogi pongal. It is devoted to Bogi or Indiran the rain god. People pay tribute and offer pongal to him for the good rain and the good harvest.  The day is linked to the famous mythological tale about Krishna lifting Gobardhan Parbat on his little finger to shelter his people and save them from being washed away by the rains and floods.
 Bogi pongal is also a day for the family. On Bogi people clean up their houses and decorate them. All the old and unwanted goods are collected and burned. This bon fire is also called Bogi.  It is like getting rid of the bad and evil from houses. In other words it symbolizes the destruction of evil.

The second day is called Surya Pongal. This is the main part of the celebrations. This day is dedicated to the sun god (Surya). On this day the sun god is worshipped and prayers are offered to him as he or his rays are responsible for the life on earth and for a bountiful harvest.

Women draw on the ground kolam/rangoli as a decorative piece of good omen to welcome people in to the house, in the morning with colored rice flour. They use new utensils or household items, which replace the ones, discarded the previous day. Generally pongal is cooked in clay pots outside the house. New rice is cooked in pots until they over flow. It is the overflowing which means pongal. This overflowing is a joyous occasion. Pongal is offered to the sun and often to Ganesha as well.  The overflowing of rice symbolizes a prosperous farming season.
The third day is called Mattu Pongal. Mattu means cattle.  This day is devoted to paying homage to cattle, to the worship and veneration of cattle and to honor the cattle’s hard work to plough the field, carry load etc.
On that day, all the farm animals get special treatment.  The whole day is set aside as a rest day for them. They bated, and decorated with kunkum (vermilion), flower garlands, bells and color powder. Pongal offered to the local deity is given to cattle to eat.  Farmers proudly parade their cows in the village after feeding them. Most villages organize a bullfight on that day.
The myth behind this day is that, Lord Shiva once asked Nandi his bull to go to earth and deliver his message to the people – to have bath every day and food once a month. But Nandi got it all mixed up when he delivered the message, and told the people that Shiva asked them to have an oil bath once a month and eat every day. Shiva was displeased and told Nandi that since the people would now need to grow more grain Nandi would have to remain on earth and help them to plough the fields.
The fourth day is called Kanum pongal.  It is also known as Thiruvalluvar day. On this day people go and meet other family members. The younger members of the family pay homage to the elders and the elders thank them by giving token money. For unmarried people the period uttarayanam is considered very auspicious for celebrating their marriage. Some leave food on banana leaves for birds to eat.
Festivity:
Harvest festival is celebrated in one are another form in all places and cultures. Like other festivals, Pongal is a good reminder of the religious, social and moral values that our forefathers and mothers have left behind in the form of tradition or religious instructions.
In the Bible, harvest, ingathering, thanksgiving, festival of booths mark a similar festival. In a good year the season of ingathering was time for merrymaking (Judg. 9:27; Isa. 9:3; 16:9–10; Ps 126:5). A good agricultural year would have been one in which an ingathering activity did not end before another started (Amos 9:13).
The whole Tamil population, particularly farmers, around the world grandly and joyfully celebrates Pongal. There is a belief among the Hindus that the harvest festival will bring great wealth and goodness to their homes.
Although Pongal is a Hindu festival it is celebrated by all people. Firstly, it is a festival of nature worship i.e. paying tribute to nature for its generosity. As a majority of the population in India depends on agriculture, honoring the powers of nature like rain, sun and other creatures have much significance from the point of eco-friendly life. It helps us to remember and to be grateful to the powers of nature for the ways in which they are essential for life.  The failure of rain or other natural resources can make life miserable. Thus, let us be faithful and grateful to God the Creator for being generous to us in enabling us to enjoy the benefits of his creation.
 Secondly, Pongal is a thanksgiving ceremony. Thanksgiving is an important aspect of Tamil tradition. Tamil farmers thank nature, the sun, and the farm animals for their assistance in providing a successful harvest. They also give thanks to all who have contributed to a successful harvest. The rest of the people celebrate this festival to pay their gratitude to the farmers for the production of food. The cattle are worshipped, given rest, food to eat and honored. It is a unique opportunity for humanity to realize the role of other creatures in making life possible. 
Thirdly, Pongal is sharing the bounteous crops with others. People celebrate the harvest of bounteous crops in the fields and share them. Farmers worship the harvested crops and share their joy with friends and relatives. Although all households make pongal, sharing each other’s pongal is one of the salient features of the event.
Fourthly, the main activity of celebrations involve people from the entire village. Neighbors get together for a community feast. Over all it is a festival to encourage social cohesiveness, and it unites people by bringing them together in a common function, beyond differences.           
Fifthly, it means the getting rid of evil and inviting good. Cleaning up the house signals the removal of evil and the invitation of the good. Kolam or rangoli suggests the welcoming of guests and good.
Sixthly, there is a significant recognition of women’s contribution in religion, society and domestic life in its celebration. During pongal, food and pongal are prepared by housewives or married women. Their role and participation makes pongal complete and auspicious.
As we celebrate a festival of the working class, particularly the farmers, let us remember the significance of the contributions of the farmers. Often it is considered as the work of the lower caste people. Let us realize the greatness of God in creating this unique opportunity to honor them in realization of their contribution to the vitality to life. Let us remember the dalits, and women who are part of the working class and be grateful to God who make our life prosperous.
           

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