Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Pongal:Tamil festival UNESCO Courier, Dec, 1984 by Guy Deleury "WHAT could be more usual for a farmer or villager of southern India than to boil his rice? What could be more common than the potbellied vessel in which the women of his family prepare the meals each day? Between the Equator and the Tropics, what could be more familiar than the Sun? And yet these are the three commonplace ingredients which, along with cows and oxen, form the centre of the annual cosmic festival of Pongal in the land of the Tamils.Some civilizations have tried hard to separate the sacred from the profane and to confine religion to the sacristy. The Hindu has a quite different approach. He creates his liturgies from the humblest objects and the activities of the daily round. .."
Thai Pongal - What it means to me! Ramalingam Shanmugalingam 14 January 2004

Thai Pongal at Sangam.org

Pongal Recipes
Pongal Kavithaigal - Ramalingam Shanmugalingam
Pongal - The four day harvest festival of Tamil Nadu - Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar
Thai Pongal or Thamil’s Festival -  Pa. Thirunaavukkarasu,
translated by Sendhil Kumar Cheran 
Pongal - the Harvest Festival of South India
Pongal in South East Asia : Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and others.
Pongal in Africa : Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles And South Africa.
Pongal in Oceania : Australia, New Zealand, Fiji.
Pongal in the Gulf : Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia And Kuwait.
Pongal in Europe : Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark
Tamils in Americas : USA and Canada.

Pongal Greeting Cards


Thai Pongal

Significance of Thamil New Year and Pongal Festival
Velupillai Thangavelu, 15 January 2003, Revised 13 January 2009

[see also தமிழர் பேரவை சுவிஸ் On Thai Pongal 2009  "...ஒரு இனம் தன்னை அடையாளப் படுத்திக்கொள்ள வேண்டும் என்றால் அந்த இனம் தனது மொழி, தனது பண்பாடு . தனது நாகரீகம் போன்றவற்றை பேணிக்கொள்ளுதல் அவசியமாகின்றது. இந்த காப்பாற்றும் தன்மையே அந்த இனத்தின் தொடக்கத்தையும் வாழ்வாதாரத்தின் முதன்மையையும் அறிமுகம் செய்து வைக்கும் காரணியாகின்றது..." more]

Thai Pongal - KolamThanksgiving is an important aspect of Thamil culture and tradition, as is the case with many other civilisations. Most thanksgiving ceremonies are religious in nature, as people of each culture thank their chosen deity for the favours granted to them, though this is not always the case.

The Thamil festival of Thai Pongal is such a thanks-giving ceremony. It is the equivalent of Canada’s Thanks Giving Day. Pongal is a four-days-long harvest festival celebrated by Thamils living all around the world. Pongal day and the dat following are national holidays in Thamil Nadu. For so long as people have been planting and gathering food, there has been some form of harvest festival. Pongal, one of the most important popular festivals of the year. This four-day festival of thanksgiving to nature takes its name from the Tamil word meaning "to boil" and is held on the first day of the month of Thai (January -February) when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane, and turmeric (an essential ingredient in Tamil cooking) are harvested.

Mid-January is an important time in the Tamil calendar. The harvest festival, Pongal, falls typically on the 14th or the 15th of January and is the quintessential 'Tamil Festival'. Pongal is a harvest festival, a traditional occasion for giving thanks to nature, for celebrating the life cycles that give us grain. Tamilians say 'Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum', and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of the Tamil month Thai that begins on Pongal day. This is traditionally the month of weddings. This is not a surprise in a largely agricultural community - the riches gained from a good harvest form the economic basis for expensive family occasions like weddings. Thamils refer to Pongal as "Tamizhar Thirunal" (meaning "the festival of Tamils"). This festival originated in Tamil Nadu. The saying "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum" meaning "the birth of the month of Thai will pave the way for new opportunities" often is quoted regarding the Pongal festival.

Thamil farmers celebrate the event to thank gift of nature like the Sun and the farm cattle for their assistance in reaping a bountiful harvest.

Thamil New Year  and Pongal festival falls on the first day of the month of Thai of the Thamil calendar (On the 14th or 15th of the month of January according to Christian calendar). Thai (January) is the harvest season in both Thamil Nadu and Thamil Eelam.

Interestingly in Japan too, the harvesting day is celebrated on January 15 of every year and is called "Kosho Katsu".

In 1969 Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi,, Chief Minister of Thamil Nadu, ordered that the day after Pongal should be celebrated as Thiruvalluvar Day all over Thamilnadu. He also declared the day as a government holiday. The second day of Thai (Thai thingaL) is celebrated as Thiruvalluvar Day since 1974. Thamilnadu Government also adopted the Thamil Calendar based on the birth of Thiruvalluvar in 1971, in government gazette since 1972 and in all government offices from 1981. In 2008 the Thamil Nadu government passed into law legislation declaring Thai 01 (January 14) as the birth of Thamil New Year and Thai Pongal Vizha. Pngal day and the following day have also been declared statury holidays.

In the solar calendar, January 13/14 has astronomical significance. It is the day the sun after making a complete circle is seen going on its ’ northward journey’ and observed from the earth the sun enters one of the 12 imaginary zodiac sign of Magara Raasi from Dhanu Raasi.

In ancient times, the solar calendar was not followed in celebrating festivals. There is historical evidence to show that Thai Pongal was celebrated on the day when the new moon was sighted. This was because in ancient times the calendar was drawn up on the basis of the changing phases of the moon.

The celebration of Thai 1st goes back to the latter part of the Sangam age. According to the Sangam literary work Paripaadal, this day is related to the Thiruvaathirai festival. Having spent the entire month of Maarkazhi praying to god and observing ritual fasting, young virgins celebrated the last day, Thai 1, with the Thai Bathing. According to the work Kaliththokai, the rituals during the month of Maarkazhi are observed in the hope that it will lead to wedlock with a good-hearted husband. It also mentions the worship of Sun as a deity.

According to the stone carvings [kalvettu] at Thiruvotriyoor, Pongal was celebrated during the time of the great king Raajaraaja Chozhan 1. This festival was known as the “Puthiyeedu” festival. Puthiyeedu meant the first harvest of the year.

Both the Maarkazhi month rituals and the Thai 1st bathing rituals are practiced even today. It was these secular rituals that inspired the immortal hymns of Thiruppaavai and Thiruvempaavai by Saint Aandaal and Saint Maanikkavaasakar respectively in the 9th century.

Pongal refers to rice cooked in milk and sweetened with jaggery. On a full scale it is a three-day festival of nature-worship. On the second day thanks are offered to the cattle, Mattu Pongal or Paddip Pongal, which helped farmers to plough the fields, transport goods and provide milk to drink. On this day the cattle is bathed, decorated and given special gruel. Turmeric, kunkumam are applied to the horns of the cattle, garlands, small bells and bundles of vadai are hung around their necks and they are paraded in the streets. The cooked Pongal is given to the cattle to eat. In Thamil Nadu, a kind of bullfight called the ‘Jallikattu’ is staged by young men on the 3rd day of Thai Pongal celebrations.

In short, people, houses, and cows all take on an air of freshness and radiance during Thamil New Year and Pongal. There is also the hope that “When Thai is born, a way will be born.”(Thai piRanthaal, vazhi piRakkum). Thai is considered an auspicious month to hold weddings.

On Thai Pongal day members of the family wake up early in the morning, take special baths, puts on new clothes and gather in the front of the garden (muttram) to cook the traditional Pongal (rice pudding).

Before Thai Pongal day courtyards are cleaned, old wares are discarded and replaced with new things, homes colour-washed and decorated. On the morning of Pongal day the front garden is pre-prepared for the ceremonious cooking.

A flat square pitch is made and decorated with kolam drawings, and it is exposed to the direct sun light. A fire wood hearth will be set up using three bricks. . The cooking begins by putting a clay pot with water on the hearth.

A senior member of the family will conduct the cooking and the rest of the family dutifully assists him or her or watches the event. The moment of climax is the spill over of the Pongal during cooking. The spillover of milk is a propitious symbol of abundance and good omen and shouts of “ Pongalo Pongal". Thereafter, a member of the family ceremoniously puts three handful of new rice inside the boiling pot.

The other ingredients of this special dish are chakkarai (brown cane sugar) or katkandu (sugar candy), milk (cow's milk or coconut milk), roasted green gram (payaru), raisins, cashew nuts and few pods of cardamom.

When the meal is ready it is first put on a banana leaf and the family pray for a few minutes to thank nature, sun and farmers.

Then the meal (Pongal) is served with fruits (banana and mango) among the family. Later it will be shared with neighbours, friends and relatives.

The richness of Thamil culture and historical traditions is symbolized in the Thamil New Year and Thai Pongal festival.

It is a joyous and happy occasion when the poor, the rich, the farmer, the villager all celebrate the harvest festival together irrespective of their individual faith.

By celebrating this festival the Thamils in the Diaspora help to perpetuate our rich culture, traditions, literary opulence, sublime philosophy and socio-economic aspirations. Also to give an emotional link to our kith and kin at home who for the first time in two decades are celebrating Pongal in an atmosphere of relative peace.

On this Pongal festive day, we should banish superstitious beliefs, darkness of ignorance and egoistic arrogance. Instead lit the light of knowledge and the warmth of human love and compassion among all people.

Thai Pongal - What it means to me! - Ramalingam Shanmugalingam, 14 January 2004

- Greetings! Greetings! This day of affluence (Pongal)
- Tamils true cultural day is universal in essence
- Selected parts of Lady Land is paved in colorful design
- Open to receive the full force of the benevolent SUN
- Cheerfully we adorn our bathed body with new clothes
- Anticipating the milk rice with dhal and honey for our sweet-tooths.

The significance of Pongal is essentially a Thanksgiving gesture. The significance of Sun was not lost not only on the ancient Tamils but also on other cultures. The Israelis? claim to the Chosen ones stand among those who believe in that humanity grew from the Adam and Eve creations within the last 5000 plus years itself has the element of the Sun in their very name Israel. (Iz + ray + el and el stands for Sun/God)

Dr. C. P. Ramaswami Iyer in his address given at a Symposium in New Delhi on the 14th February 1954 referred to a “Great Westerner, speaking of the conditions in the West, spoke more or less in the following strain: that increasingly the meaning and value of life are getting to be obscured the complacency, especially of the Western world, is receding and people are getting more and more perplexed about what is the sum total of the meaning, the value, and the significance of life. It is in the context or with the background of that reflection that the same philosopher went on to analyse the recent history of the Western world in comparison with the preceding epochs. He observed that in the medieval period, and up to almost the seventeenth century, in European history, there was a commanding purpose and a meaning of civilization and for life a reliance or dependence upon a definite divine purpose in human life.

That was succeeded in the following generation or epoch, the eighteenth century in European history, by what was called the age of reason, an age when doubt, questioning, inquiry and constant investigation took the place of that abundant faith in a divine purpose which was the guiding principle of the preceding epoch. The nineteenth century – what was called the: Industrial Revolution Period” – was a period of reliance upon industrial growth, upon the progress of manufacturing capacities for the purpose of solving human problems. At that time the quest was for economic progress.

That age failed in its purpose because in its wake came a time when economic progress was equated with the misery of a large number of people who contributed to the so-called prosperity in the economic sphere. But the succeeding years questioned the wisdom of equating political with economic liberties. It was found that prosperity in the industrial and economic sphere, even though attended with political liberty or freedom, did not protect the underdog and there followed a search for freedoms, a freedom from fear and reliance upon security. That period again has been succeeded by the present not very happy period of cold and colder wars and hot and hotter anticipations!

“May I remind you of what culture really means and involves in this connection. It has been rightly pointed out that science means a curiosity about life, art means a wonder at life, philosophy means an attitude an attitude towards life, and religion means a reverence for life. Culture embraces and involves all these elements it is a mixture of that never-ending phenomena, physical, psychological and spiritual, and the unceasing wonder and reverence at the ultimate facts of life. It is these things that make for culture…..”

Culture is connected with “cultivate.” Therefore, paying attention to one or two elements of culture and totally neglecting or disregarding the other elements is not helping in the growth and development of culture.

Most Tamils are ignorant about their place in the human chain. Periods of subjugation have lent a feeling of “Don’t care” attitude that augurs well for the crafty to take advantage of the complacency evolved as a result of years of “subaltern consciousness” among most Tamils. The situation is worse than the eighteenth century Europe for Tamils today.

There are several glaring cases of Tamil indifference exhibited by Tamil unconcern for events too numerous to list. However, irrespective of some of the elements of Tamil culture is under threat to the point of marginalizing or total disappearance, love for superstitious reverence cleverly orchestrated by charlatans continues at an unprecedented magnitude. Also the reverential admiration for celluloid celebrity goes unchecked that totally blinds Tamil sight to the dangers facing Tamil at large.

Pongal is celebrated for four days and is a good place to start. As has been pointed out earlier, it is a true Tamil festival without the trimmings of foreign religious connotations. Even though Pongal is ascribed to the plough for its significance, it is a Tamil cultural event that embraces and involves many aspects of Tamil life. The first day is called ‘pOki’ erroneously called BHOGHI and misrepresented as the day to rid the house of redundant or unwanted items.

Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Madras Dr. Portko described this first day ‘pOki’ celebration as “MARIAMMAN FESTIVAL” also. The second day is called the ‘vAcaR pongkal’ or ‘cUrija pongkal’ the third day is dedicated to the cow as the then source of draft power for the plough and the last day is a day of sports and enjoyment.

Since rain that is also called ‘mAri’, plays a very important part in our lives, naturally rain is revered and the first day’s celebration is appropriately called ‘mAriamman’ festival. Also since INDIRA the king of DEVAS and the divinity responsible for rain is also called POKI, this is also called the POKI festival. This POKI festival or INDIRA festival is mentioned in cilappatikAram.

The third day festivities begin with the bathing of the draft animals as well as the cow that gives us the milk that plays a very significant role among Tamils and the world at large. The fourth day is called ‘karu NAL’ and as in many other cases is changed to ‘kari NAL’, the significance of this festival is lost in this change. On the last and final day of the Pongal festivities youthful sports such as subduing the bull, cart races and other sports are staged for the enjoyment of the people.

Dr. Portko, is involved in the research to find more about the relationship between Tamil and the Japanese languages. In fact, he has observed close similarity in a Japanese festival celebrated in Japan during Pongal celebrations.

In his book “Tamil Studies Selected Papers” Dr. Portko wrote in page 497:

“The Vedic religion has caused serious damage to the folk deities and to the folk-worship as well. The Vedic domination and the Sanskritization process have skillfully converted most of the ancient deities into Hinduism.

“A detailed study of the temples in Tamil Nadu in an unbiased manner will prove the fact beyond doubt that most of the temples belong to the native deities which should be rightly considered pre-religious, non-Vedic and hence non-Hindu.”

Pongal perhaps is the only Tamil cultural insignia that has to a very large extent escaped the intrusion of the interlopers and need to be kept in its pristine non-religious form for the future.



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