Popularly known as the Tamil Harvest Festival, Thai Pongal is celebrated usually around Jan 14th every year that marks the last day of Tamil Month “Maargazhi” (pronounced Maar-ga-li) to the third day of Tamil month “Thai” (Thai is the 10th Month of Tamil Calendar)
There are both scientific and spiritual meanings to this grand celebration. Scientifically, the first day of the celebration marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards in the sky and this period is also known as the Uttaraayanam.
Traditionally the festival is celebrated to convey gratitude to the Sun for a successful harvest. Part of the celebration is the boiling of the first rice of the season consecrated to the Sun - the Surya Maangalyam.
In Tamil, Pongal also means festivities or celebrations. More specifically, it refers to “Boiling over” or “Overflow”.
Symbolically, Pongal signifies the gradual heating of the earth as the Sun travels northward toward the equinox.
Here is a clip of the celebrations in Sri Lanka:
Pongal is a four-part festival.
Day 1: Bhogi: The day preceding Pongal is called Bhogi. The specialty of this day is to get rid of old belongings and celebrate new possessions. Its customary to donate old items, dresses and buy new items for household, prayers and celebrations on this day.
Day 2: Thai Pongal: This is the main event. During the festival, milk is cooked in a vessel. When it starts to bubble and overflows out of the vessel, freshly harvested rice grains are added to the pot. At the same time other participants blow a conch called the sanggu and call-in 'Pongalo Pongal!' They also recite 'Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum' ('the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities'). This is repeated frequently during the Pongal festival.
Day 3: Maatu Pongal: This day is famous Jallikattu. On this day the cows of family are decorated and the famous bull taming sport is played in the afternoon or evening of the Mattu Pongal celebrations.
Day 4: Kaanum Pongal: The fourth day of Pongal marks the end of the celebrations for the year. Kaanum in this context means, “To visit” and this day is marked by brothers visiting their married sisters with gifts as an affirmation of their affectionate love, people visiting their friends and relatives, and gifting them with sweets and Sugar Cane as a gesture for good luck and a symbol of appreciation for their support.
This fun filled, sweet and sumptuous Tamil festival marks the beginning of the harvest season and is a beautiful time to come close as a family and celebrate the offerings of Mother Nature and thank her for her generosity.