The history of Pongal can be traced back to the Sangam Age, ie, 200 B.C. to 300 A.D. Pongal is an ancient festival of the Tamils and it is not known when exactly the Tamils began celebrating the festival, but some historians identify it with the Thai Un and Thai Niradal, believed to have been celebrated during the Sangam Age. Pongal, a traditional Tamilian food item that has found a place in the menu of Indian restaurants across the globe, is perhaps the only dish to have lent its name to a festival.
As part of the festivities, maidens of the Sangam era observed penance during the Tamil month of Margazhi (December-January). Throughout the month, they avoided milk and milk products. They would not oil their hair and refrained from using harsh words while speaking. The women had their ceremonial baths early in the morning.
They worshiped the image of Goddess Katyayani, which would be carved out of sand. They ended their penance on the first day of the month of Thai (January-February). This penance was to bring abundant rains and agricultural prosperity for the country.
Thai Niradal was a major festival during the reign of the Pallavas (4th to 8th Century A.D.). Andal’s Tiruppavai and Manickavachakar’s Tiruvembavai vividly describe the festival. According to an inscription found in the Veeraraghava temple at Tiruvallur, the Chola king Kiluttunga used to gift lands to the temple specially for the Pongal celebrations.
According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food. Thus the association of this day with cattle.
Each of the three days are marked by different festivities. The first day, Bhogi Pongal, is a day for the family. Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God. Boiled milk and jaggery is offered to the Sun God. The third day of Pongal, Mattu Pongal, is for worship of the cattle known as Mattu. Cattle are bathed, their horns polished and painted in bright colors, and garlands of flowers placed around their necks. The Pongal that has been offered to the Gods is then given to cattle and birds to eat.
Legend of Pongal
All the festivals have some interesting legends associated with it. Pongal, the much awaited festival of South India particularly Tamil Nadu also has interesting legends associated with it. The most popular legends attached to Pongal celebration are discussed below:
Legend of Mount Govardhan
The first day of the festival Bhogi Pongal has an association with legend of Lord Indra (the God of clouds and rains) and Lord Krishna. Earlier, people used to worship Lord Indra who was the King of the deities. This honor given to Lord Indra made him full of pride and arrogance. He thought himself to be the most powerful of all the beings. When child Krishna came to know about this he thought of a plan to teach him a lesson. He persuaded his cowherd friends to worship Mt. Govardhan rather than Lord Indra.
This angered Lord Indra and he sent forth the clouds to generate non-stop thunder, lightning, heavy rains and flood the land. As per the tale, Lord Krishna lifted the huge Govardhan Parvat on his little finger to protect the cowherds and the cattle. He kept standing with the lifted mount to save all the humans from the ravaging storm of Lord Indra. The rains continued for three days and at last Indra realized his mistake and divine power of Lord Krishna. He promised humility and begged Krishna’s forgiveness.
Since then, Krishna allowed to let the Bhogi celebrations continue in honor of Indra. Thus, the day gave the origin to the Pongal celebration. The festival got another name of Indran from this legendary story.
Legend of Lord Shiva
Another legend associated with the festival relates to Lord Shiva. The third day of Pongal known as Mattu Pongal involves Lord Shiva and his mount, Nandi (Basava), the bull. According to the legend, Lord Shiva once asked his bull to go to the Earth and deliver his message to the people to have an oil massage and bath daily and to eat food once a month. Mistakenly, Basava announced to have an oil massage and bath once a month and to eat food daily. Enraged Shiva cursed Basava and said that due to this mistake there would be lack of grains on the Earth. He banished the bull to live on earth forever and help people plough the fields.
Thus, Mattu Pongal has an association with the cattle. It is also called Kanu Pongal. The celebrations of the festival are similar to the festivals of Raksha bandhan and Bhai Dooj of North India.
Full credit and acknowledgement goes to the anonymous writer.