Pongal is my favourite dish – both chakkrai or sweet pongal and venn or kara pongal. Incidentally its the only sweet I know how to prepare.
Being a Tamilian, Pongal is one of those festivals I have always looked forward to since school. To begin with, schools used to reopen after December holidays around the first week of January and then shut again for at least four days for Pongal in the second week. Big blockbuster movies used to release around the time.
It is essentially a harvest festival, a form of thanksgiving by the farmers for their lush bountiful produce. Pongal is celebrated with great gusto in villages. It is also the beginning of a new month in the Tamil calendar. The farmers express their gratitude to the sun god, decorate their cattle, paint their horns and take few days off from their fields to celebrate. At dawn, pongal is prepared usually in an earthern pot and as the rice bubbles and boils and spills, locals wish each other , Pongalo Pongal. There are four days of celebration – Bhogi, Pongal, Maatu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal.
This is the period when the sun enters Makara or the zodiac sign, Capricorn. According to Hindu mythology, Saturn or Shani who is the ruling planet of Capricorn is the son of Surya or the Sun God and the latter pays a visit to his house while transiting. In each state, the festival has a different name – Makar Sankranti in most parts of the country, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Bhogali Bihu in Assam to name a few
The day before Pongal or Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Lohri in Punjab or Bhogi in Tamil Nadu. However whatever may be the custom or tradition, the essence of the festival is to celebrate..after all, what is in a name ?