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TAMIL NATIONAL FORUM
Selected Writings - N.Nandhivarman
Thai Pongal: Universal Festival of Harvest
1 January 2008
Tamils are celebrating Thai Pongal. In North India it is known as Sankranthi. This festival of harvest is universal one practiced by remote tribes on earth and people of various cultures, which again proves the oneness of humanity.
In the Volga region when the Sun was moving in the direction of spring, people came together to forecast the future harvest. The Mari and Chuvashes, tribal groups in Volga region prepared special food for this festival of harvest. These festivals were connected with first ploughing and sowing. The festivities took place in the field. A little bit of food was sacrificed to Mother Earth.
Slav people had their sun deities. They were called Svarog, Dazhbog, and Khors.The word god (bag) is same in all Slavic languages. You can see the resemblance with Iranian baga and Indian bhagwan with the Slavic bag. These similarities also remind us that beliefs are universal.
The Zulus of South Africa worshipped the Goddess Nomkubulwana. They believed that this goddess made land fertile and was the mythical originator of agriculture. Only women did all farming work among Zulu tribes and they only performed rites and chanted prayers for a good harvest.
Almost all people of the Caucasus region worshipped guardians of harvest and other kind of livestock. Does it make us think about Maattu Pongal, thanksgiving to cattle prevalent among Tamil people.
Celtic gods were guardians of fertility and agriculture. River Gods and Spring Gods were existent. Esus was the god of plant life.
In Mexico the agrarian influence could be seen in the Uitzilopochtti cult. During the celebrations held twice a year an enormous dummy of the God was made out of flour dough and honey. After the religious rites are over the figure was broken into pieces and eaten by all the participants.
In the Chinese civilization the cult of Shen-nong i.e Divine Farmer is note worthy. The legendary Divine Farmer is supposed to have invented agriculture. A special sacrificial altar was devoted to him in Peking, where the emperor solemnly brought offerings. In early spring every year an important state ceremony was held to mark the first ploughing season. The Chinese Emperor accompanied by prominent dignitaries ploughed a furrow on a sacred plot of the land. The God of the land was known as She and peasants offered sacrifices to her as part of spring and autumn rituals.
In the Shintoist religion of Japan the most revered Gods are Amaterasu i.e Sun Goddess and Inari i.e Rice Man, the guardian of farming portrayed with two rice stalks and often together with a Fox.
In the ancient Egyptian religion the God Osiris deserves mention. Every year Egyptians celebrated the death and resurrection of Osiris. The image of Osiris was made out of sown wheat on the layer of soil that was sprinkled into a special wooden frame. These festivities lasted 18 days and involved ritual plouging and sowing. Osiris is the direct personification of grain,
In Asia Minor the Mother of the Gods was named Ma, Rhea, and Cybele. Her husband was a young god of fertility named as Attis. There is also another myth about the deity of plant life and fertility. God Telepinus once suddenly disappeared it is stated. Because of his disappearance grass dried up. Fields failed to yield crops. Cattle stopped multiplying. Woman no longer bore children. To put an end to this state of affairs the other gods organized a search for this God. A bee found him and awakened him, so goes the myth.
In Greek religion in the agricultural cult Demeter, the goddess was offered with bloodless offerings like fruits, grapes, honey combs and freshly reared sheep wool. These offerings were placed on an altar and covered with olive oil. Numerous such stories, myths and beliefs could be found in various civilizations. The Greek Goddess Hera wife of God Zeus was apparently a cow goddess. Signs of cow worship were found in excavations. It is heartening to note that Tamils worshipping cow goddess in Maattu Pongal times is a practice found in Greek civilization too.
In the Roman religion in the first month of spring March , festivities were held in honour of Mars. Faunus was the guardian angel of livestocks and he was the god of shepherds. At the end of winter on Feb 17 a jolly holiday Lupercalis was celebrated in her honour. Liber was the god of wine making. Saturnus the god of sowing. Jupiter the god of grapes.
Romans too worshipped gods as Pax (Peace), Spes (Hope), and Virtus( valour), Justitia (Justice), Fortuna( Happiness) etc. If we analyze at the concepts on religion in various cultures we can understand its inherent meanings. Mankind had been striving to be grateful to Nature and agricultural festivities like Pongal demonstrate this common urge of human race, which is one and indivisible. While Tamil people hail Pongalo Pongal an d thank Nature for its kindness, Harvest festivals of various civilizations reminds us that our festival has universal appeal.