What Pongal means to each region of India?

Pongal is primarily a harvest festival celebrated in various parts of India. Though it is celebrated on the same day, each region has its own distinct customs and traditions. It is also known differently in each region. While it is famous as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, the people of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh celebrate it as Sankrati, in Assam as ‘Bihu’, Delhi as ‘Lohri’ in West Bengal it is known as ‘Poush Sankranti’, and in Maharastra and Gujarat it is celebrated as ‘Makar Sankranti’. No matter what it is called, the season is greeted by fun, festivities and feasts.

Celebrated as a thanksgiving festival to the Sun God for a rich harvest, Pongal is celebrated on the 14th of January every year. It lasts for about 3-4 days where offerings are made to different Gods. Special traditional dishes are prepared and new clothes are worn. Here again, the food preparation varies according to the region. In the southern part of India, a sweet rice pudding called pongal is prepared, while in the north people make til and gur laddoos.

In the villages, the festivity is marked by exchange of gifts and sweets. Farm labourers get gifts from their landlords. While some receive traditional clothes like veshtis and saris, kitchen vessels, household goods and wooden handicraft items are also popular.

Here’s how the harvest festival is celebrated in the different regions of the country.

Pongal in Tamil Nadu

This is one of the most important festivals of this region celebrated to worship and thank the Sun God for a good harvest. The festivities last for a good 4 days starting with Bhogi Pongal, in honor of Lord Indra, the rain god. On this day, all the old household items, including clothes, are discarded by throwing them into a bonfire. The next day is dedicated to Surya, the Sun God who is offered the ‘pongal’ prepared from the new harvest. The third day, Mattu Pongal, is when cattle are worshipped and thanked for helping farmers to raise crops on their fields. After they are washed and cleaned, they are ‘dressed’ and offered prayers. (Often, their horns are coloured in attractive colours). The fourth day is Kaanum Pongal which is a jamboree of sorts, marked by people visiting temples and tourist places.

On all the four days of the festival, large intricate patterns, traditionally called Kolam, are drawn and coloured with rice powder or chalk powder, in the front of the houses, after washing it.

The pongal is typically prepared in a traditional earthen pot and while cooking the milk is allowed to overflow symbolising good luck and prosperity. The preparation is traditionally eaten along with sugarcane

Sankranti in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

In thesr regions too, the festival signifies the harvest season. During Sankranti, people wear new clothes and offer prayers. The traditional sweet rice pudding is fed to the cows and bullocks. Families visit their near and dear ones and exchange a special dry preparation called Ellu-Bella, which is a combination of sugar candy moulds, fried groundnuts, jaggery, coconut and pieces of sugar cane.

Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra and Gujrat
In these two states the festival is marked by a major kite-flying event. On this day, the entire family comes out to the roof to fly kites. The entire sky is dotted with a myriad kites of various sizes and shapes as people indulge in kite-flying competitions. The International Kite Festival is held at the capital city Ahmedabad on January 14 to coincide with the festival Makar Sankranti.

‘Poush Sankranti’ in West Bengal
In this region, Pongal is known as ‘Poush Sankranti’ and celebrated for three days. The newly harvested paddy along with the date palm syrup called Khejurer Gur is used in the preparation of a variety of traditional Bengali sweets made with rice flour, coconut and milk.

Uttar Pradesh

Pongal here is celebrated as Makar Sankranti. Taking a ritual bath in the foothills of the river is a must on this day. The belief is that a person who does not take a bath on in the river on this auspicious day will be re-born as a donkey in his next birth. Apart from this ritual bathing, donating khichri (a cooked mixture of rice and lentils) is also one of the important aspects of the Makar Sankranti celebration in Uttar Pradesh.

Bihu in Assam
In Assam, the harvest festival is known as Bhogali Bihu, It is celebrated to signify the end of harvest season and the start of spring. This is also the time when the granaries are overflowing, so there is a lot of feasting. The festival lasts for a week which includes various forms of revelries.

Despite each region having its own unique custom and name to it, Pongal is predominantly celebrated as a harvest festival. Apart from delicious traditional food prepartions, the festival brings about a lot of bonhomie and merriment. People indulge in community games and sports which paves the way for strengthening social bonds.

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