Thanksgiving 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 a harvest festival, the equivalent of Canadas Thanks Giving Day. Thamil farmers celebrate the event to thank gift of nature like the Sun and the farm animals for their assistance in reaping a bountiful harvest.
Thamil New Year 2034 and Pongal festival falls on the first day of the month of Thai of the Thamil calendar (On the 14th 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 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 Saintess 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 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.