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Thai Pongal Expressing gratitude to the Sun

In an agriculture based civilisation the harvest plays an important part. The farmer cultivating the land depends on cattle, timely rains and the sun. Once a year he expresses his gratitude to those during the harvest festival. With the end of the wet month Margali (mid December to mid January) the new Tamil month of Thai beginning on January 14, 2009 heralds a series of festivals.

The first day of this month is a festival day known as ‘Thaipongal day’. Pongal means the boiling over of milk and rice during the month of Thai.

According to the Hindu calendar based on the solar system the year is divided into two halves following the apparent movement of the Sun northwards and southwards. The former is termed ‘Utteranarayanam’ and the latter is ‘Dakshinanarayanam’. On the first day of the Thai, the Sun leave the Zodiac sign of ‘Sagittarius’ and enters that of ‘Capricorn’. The latter is known as Makaram. This event thus is celebrated as Mahara Sankaranthi.

In fact, it is a day of triple celebrations, the beginning of Uttaranasayanam, Mahara Sangaranthi and the Pongal. The Pongal marks a period of plenty, peace and happiness. There is a Tamil saying ‘Thai Peranthal Vali Perakum’. This paraphrased means “with the dawn of the month of Thai, there will be peace, happiness, prosperity, brightness and harmony in the life of everyone.”

Thai Pongal which is observed by Hindus generally includes rites and ceremonies that are the expression of mortification, purgation, invigoration and jubilation over life’s renewal.

The Sun is the main object of worship and the Pongal made of coconut milk, rice and jaggery is offered first to the Sun. As the Mahara Sankaranthi coincides with the harvest season the farmers also express this gratitude to the Sun by worshipping it and offering fruits, sugar cane and boiled rice with milk.

The Pongal rings in a year of warmth. The cold season ends, the flowers blossom and the songs of the birds fill the air. It is therefore no wonder that the ancients attached great importance to the Sun and its movements. All auspicious events such as weddings and festivals are conducted during ‘Uttaranarayana’ season.

During Thai Pongal Day Hindu homes are cleaned, colourwashed and decorated. Usually the villages cook the rice in the open in a pot at noon when the Sun is directly overhead. It is believed that the direct rays of the Sun falling over the month of the vessel will bring peace, harmony and prosperity.

The day after the Thai Pongal is devoted to thanksgiving to cattle. The farmers pay great attention to the animals which have ploughed the fields and drawn the carts throughout the year. To show their gratitude for this invaluable service the animals are bathed, their horns are painted in red, blue, yellow and green. Their foreheads are smeared with tumeric and kumkum. Their necks are adorned with colourful garlands. Pooja is offered to them and Pongal is given in plenty. This is called ‘Mattu Pongal’.

Further, the Pongal is also an occasion for family reunion and together. Old enmities, personal animosities and rivalries are forgotten. Estrangements are healed and reconciliation effected.

Indeed, Thai Pongal is a festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion crystalised in the last hymn on unity in the Indian spiritual text the Rig Veda: “Let your aim be one and single. Let your heart be joined in one, the mind at rest in unison at peace with all, so you may be.”

Love and peace are the central theme of Thai Pongal. As the ancients have said “Whatever you love, you are its master, whatever you hate you are its slave”. Besides, man’s inner being is resplendent with peace, love and compassion. If one possesses the ability to drive away the contaminating darkness of ignorance and arrogance from within, one could bear witness to our calling.

Indeed, we have in our midst the brilliant light of the Sun, the mellow light of the moon and the stars, but everybody’s heart and mind, a different light burns - the light of knowledge and the warmth of human love and compassion.

The clear beauty of purified wisdom which we carry in our hearts will undoubtedly strengthen ourselves for sacrifice, service and greatness and will dispel the gloom of poverty, superstition, darkness of ignorance and egoistic arrogance.

Thai Pongal festival makes us realise that “Hatred will never cease by hatred, but will cease by love alone.” Even Lord Buddha said “Mind is everything. The way you think you become.” Mahatma Gandhi put it differently: “Man is the product of his thoughts and what he thinks he becomes.”

Thai Pongal is observed with great reverence, devotion, a sense of duty and loving kindness towards all, stimulating society, enlivening the nation and fostering national consciousness.

Hindu festivals meanings and significance

Throughout the year Hindus have many festivals and religious observances each months of the Tamil Hindu calendar. Mostly these festivals are based on Hindu Mythology. There are a few which are nature related.

The Tamil year starts with the New Year on 13th or 14th of April - Chithirai 1st, that is when the sun enters the zodiacal home Aries (Medam) after the Vernal nox. As this day is based on the solar calendar the date remains the same. The Tamil New Year is often referred to as Hindu New Year which is a misnomer. In fact until the advent of Christianity, it remained Tamil New Year.

With the Gregorian Calendar coming into force, the Christians celebrated January 1st as the New Year while the Tamil Hindus stuck to April 13th/14th as their New Year. Hence the misunderstanding.

Of course the New Year is received with a religious fervour. In this month of Chithirai (April 13th - May 13th) falls the Chithirai Paurnami - the full moon of Chithirai. This day is observed with Poosai (now Pooja with a Sanskrit flavour) in memory of dead mothers. The motherless fast on that day and pray for the souls of the dead mothers to attain Moksha. Some donate money and offer food to the orphanages in memory of their mothers.

In Vaikasi - mid May to mid June is the famous Vaikasi Pongal to Mother Goddess Amman. In all Amman Temples devotees flock carrying pots and pans. This happens during full moon or close upon full moon or a day or two after full moon. In the outer precincts they cook milk rice and the priests cook milk rice in the inner precincts. The cooked milk rice is offered to the deity and then served to the devotees.

In Aani - mid June to mid July the day observed is Aani Utharam. According to mythology, on this day, Lord Natarajah performed a special dance on the request of His ardent devotees. This day therefore is dedicated to Lord Siva and special religious ceremony is performed in Sivan temples.

Aadi Peruku

Mid July to mid August is Aadi. This months brings rain. Aadi Peruku means the rivers in spate during this months. The 1st of Aadi - by July 15th is called Aadipirapu - the birth of the month of Aadi. This is celebrated with pomp both in homes and temples. A special sweet thick porridge called ‘kool’ is prepared with raw rice flour, green gram, sweetened with palmyrrah jaggery and served to all.

The new moon in the month of Aadi is kept aside to pray for the dead fathers - fasting and praying for their souls to attain Moksha. On this day money is donated and food offered to the needy. There is a special day set aside for Mother Goddess. Aadipooram is the star galaxy. On this day Umadevi is said to have attained age - may be in one of her Avathars. The day is spent in fasting and praying.

The fourth day after new moon is Aavani - mid August to mid September is dedicated to God Ganesha. It is called Vinayaga Sathurthi. Interestingly this day was once celebrated as the new year. This is the most important day of all the days observed for Lord Ganesha. On the 15th day after new moon falls Aavani Sathurthasi. This day is dedicated to Lord Natarajah. Associated with the day of Aavanimoolam - a star galaxy - is a story from Periyapuranam.

In Tamil Nadu, there was a saint called Manickavasagar who was the king’s prime minister. He was a devoted Saivaite. When the king gave him money to purchase some horses, he spent all that money on some siva devotees he met on the way and was put in prison. Lord Siva by certain means had him released. That day is the Moolam in Aavani. Every Sunday in Aavani is dedicated to the Sun God.

The month of Purartathi is from mid September to mid October. The Saturdays of this month are for the worship of Saturn. Fasting and praying to Saturn may lessen the hardships or even be beneficial to the people, especially when Saturn is not favourable to them.

Saraswathy Pooja

Next come the nine nights of Saraswathy Pooja. Here too the Festival is linked to mythology. There was an asura with the head of a bull (Mahisham) called Mahishasuran. He was an embodiment of ego. He had got many boons from Brahma. He requested Brahma a boon that he should not come by his death by a male. He was quite sure that no woman would or could fight with him.

As usual he played havoc - harassing devas, sages and men alike. The devas ran to Lord Vishnu to save them. Lord Vishnu referred them to God Siva who called the three Sakthis - Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathy, “Combine your powers (sakthi) and vanquish the Asura. It is this combined Sakthi who finally vanquished Mahishasuran. She is then know as Mahishasuramarthini.

This battle raged for nine days and nine nights. The tenth victorious day is Vijayadasami. As the demon of ignorance was vanquished with a weapon of knowledge on this day, Vijayadasami is held on auspicious day to start the alphabet to children of five years before they start going to school.

All arts are taught on this day when they have the “Vidya Arambam” starting to learn - learning and knowledge dispel ignorance. It is the ignorant who are always egoistic.

The Kethara Gowry Viratham (fast) starts the day after Vijayadasamy. This is to invoke the blessings of Mother goddess. It lasts one month from one new moon to next. In Puratathi falls the occasion known as Mahalayam. It falls at the end of the new moon. This day is dedicated to all the forefathers. Offerings are made and the poor are fed in memory of the dead ancestors, so their souls may attain Moksha.

Mid October to mid November is the month of Aipasi. It is an auspicious month.


The Fridays of this month have special religious significance. Deepavali falls in this month. Year in year out the mythological story is found in black and white in many journals. In short it is the victory of good over evil.

The six days after Deepavali are for God Murugan when Murugan devotees observe Kanthasasti. Here too God Murugan fights the demon of ago called Pathmasuran. This mythological story is enacted each year in all Murugan Temples of the world. The next month of Karthigai (mid November to mid December) has a special day on the full moon day called Karthigai Vilakidu. This also has a mythological background.

Once the devas prayed to God Siva who granted them many boons. Drunk with new powers obtained thus, they forgot God Siva. To destroy their ego, God Siva appeared before them in the guise of an old man. He planted a fibre in the sand and asked the devas to pull it out. Try as they might, they could not pull the fibre out. They stared at the old man in awe and amazement.

He disappeared and in his place Lord Siva appeared. He admonished them for being so egoistic and said it was due to ignorance. True knowledge only will dispel ignorance as such as light dispels darkness.

So this full moon day is observed by lighting oil lamps inside and outside the home to symbolise that the light of knowledge dispels the darkness of ignorance. In the month of Karthigai is also a day dedicated for God Ganesha who vanquished another demon called Gajamukasuran.


The Mondays during this month are for God Siva. It is called Somavaram - week of God Siva.

Mid December to mid January is the month of Margali (December). This month is supposed to be the dawn to the Gods and devas. Early morning devotees come round the temple and also down the roads singing songs from “Thiruempavai” requesting God Siva to rise. Songs for Lord Vishnu called “Thirupavai” are also sung by devotees in their respective temples.

Mid January to mid February is the month of Thai. The month that ushers in prosperity. This is the 10th month in the Tamil Hindu Calendar. Thaipongal falls on 1st day of Thai - January 14th or 15th. Much has been said about this festival and a repetition is not necessary.

The full moon day in Thai is Thaipoosam meant for God Murugan. More than in Sri Lanka this day is celebrated with gusto in Malaysia and Singapore by the Hindus. This year it falls on February 8th. The new moon is also of some significance.

Mid February - mid March is the eleventh month Masi. Maha Sivarathri is celebrated this month. It is an all night worship for God Siva. The star galaxy of Maham - Masimaham is also a day for religious observances.

There are about 28 star galaxies mentioned in the Almanac. Maham, Moolam, Poosam, Utharam are some of them.

Panguni is between mid March - mid April. On Panguni Utharam, Uma took an avathar and was born as the daughter of Parvatharajan, (Parvatham - mountain, Bajan - king). She prayed to God Siva to take her back as His consort. All Mondays of the month are dedicated to Mother Goddess.

Thus the 12 months of the Tamil Hindu Calendar have at least one religious function per month. During all these days, the family visits the temple to worship and to offer food items.

Varieties of sweetmeat called Mothakan, Kolukaddai with fillings of boiled green gram, scraped coconut and jaggery are prepared. These are offered to the Deities in the shrine room in the home or temple and then served to the people.


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