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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.