Pongal is a thousand-year-old Indian harvest celebration observed mostly by the Tamil people in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. A four-day festival that climaxes on the third day – also known as Thai Pongal – it usually takes place in mid-January by the lunar calendar.
Pongal translates as “overflowing”, signifying the wealth and prosperity of the harvest season. Traditionally starting at dawn, families symbolically boil rice and milk on outdoor wood burning stoves using new clay pots. When the milk boils and spills over the container’s rim, they join together in shouting “Pongalo Pongal!”. This ceremony represents an act of thanks to the sun for its life-giving sustenance and for making the harvest possible. At the same time it is an opportunity to ask for good luck and fortune for the coming growing season. After the ceremony is completed, families top the milk and rice dish with sugar, cashews and ghee and share in the meal. This dish is named Pongal after its namesake festival.
The day before Thai Pongal is known as Bhogi. Families use this time to clear out old belongings, thoroughly clean their homes and decorate their households with mango leaves, flower garlands and kolam designs. Thought to bring prosperity to the home, Kolam is a traditional Indian art of using colored rice flour to create intricate geometric patterns around the front entrances of homes. Throughout all of Tamil Nadu, Pongal is best viewed by the varied, colorful designs decorating both grand and humble households in cities and villages.
Cattle are an integral part of the Pongal celebration. A sacred animal in Hinduism, they also represent wealth on the traditional Indian farmstead by providing dairy products, ploughing and transport, as well as natural fertilizer for the fields. Cattle are pampered on Pongal. Their owners apply colorful powder on their foreheads, adorn their horns with garlands and flowers, and offer them delicacies like pongal, brown sugar, honey, bananas and other fruits to eat.
Mela Artisans wishes you and your family a Pongal Vazhthukkal! We’ve also included a recipe for Sweet Pongal below for you to share with family and friends on this day of celebration.
Sweet Pongal (Sakkara Pongal)
- ½ cup ghee (clarified butter)
- ¼ cup cashews
- ¼ cup raisins
- ½ cup split yellow lentils (moong dal)
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 cup jaggery (brown or palm sugar)
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 pinch edible camphor (kacha karpoor) (optional)
Melt the ghee in a large skillet over medium heat; fry the cashews and raisins in the melted ghee until the cashews are brown and the raisins begin to plump, about 5 minutes. Remove the cashews and raisins from the skillet and set aside. Add the lentils to the skillet and fry in the ghee until fragrant; stir the rice, milk, jaggery, and sugar into the lentils. Reduce heat to low and cook until the rice is tender, adding water as needed to keep moist, about 30 minutes. Mix the cashews, raisins, cardamom, and edible camphor into the mixture to serve.