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Pongal – A festival of Thanksgiving

One such beautiful festival of ‘Thanksgiving’ is Pongal. It is a spring festival celebrated in the south of India specially by the Tamil community to
Pongal harvest festival of Tamil Nadu India
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Nature has endowed mankind with marvellous gifts. Our ancestors truly acknowledged these precious gifts and expressed their gratitude to Mother Nature through celebrations and festivals.

One such beautiful festival of ‘Thanksgiving’ is Pongal. It is a spring festival celebrated in the south of India specially by the Tamil community to offer a ‘Special Thanksgiving’ to the Sun, the earth and the cattle. It is called ‘Thai Pongal’ in Tamil as it is observed at the beginning of the month of Thai as per the Tamil Solar calendar. It is amazing to note that this festival corresponds to the auspicious Makar Sankranti which is celebrated under many regional names throughout India. (As Bihu in Assam, Maghi in Punjab).

Pongal celebration in Tamil Nadu.

Pongal is a harvest festival that is celebrated in a grand manner for four days. The first day is ‘Bhogi ‘, a day on which  old things are  discarded and burnt and the houses are cleaned and decorated with flowers  and colourful ‘kolams’(rangoli) are put at the entrance. The second day Surya Pongal or Perum Pongal is the main day of the Pongal festival. On this day special thanksgiving prayers are offered to Sun god ‘Surya’. The celebration is done in a unique way in an open space. At the break of dawn, the Pongal pot (earthen pot) is decorated with turmeric leaf and vermilion and the sugarcane stalks are placed beside the cooking stove. Pongal is prepared in the pot with rice, split green gram beans, (moong dal) cane sugar and milk. As per the tradition, as the dish begins to boil, it is made to overflow out of the vessel. This is a special moment, when everyone shouts out with joy ‘Pongolo Pongal’- which means ‘May this rice boil over’. It symbolizes the hope for prosperity to overflow all through the year in everyone’s life. Every Tamil household celebrates the festival by sharing the Ven Pongal and the Sakkarai Pongal with family and friends.

Everyone shouts out ‘Pongolo Pongal’- which means ‘May this rice boil over’.

The third day of the festival is the Mattu Pongal. ‘Mattu’ in Tamil means ‘cow’. It is the day when a farmer expresses his gratitude to the cattle for being his ‘best friend’. The cattle are dressed up with garlands and their horns are painted and vermilion smeared on their forehead. They are worshipped and fruits and Pongal are offered to them. The traditional sport with bulls called Jallikattu and cattle races are also held on this day. Another special function called the Kanu Pidi is also observed on this day, when women and girls of the house offer the leftover Pongal dish from the previous day to the crows. A tradition that reminds us to love and care for birds and animals.

Kolam drawn on the floor

The last day of the festival is the Kanum Pongal when families go to visit one another to wish each other ‘Happy Pongal’. For an overflow of abundance in the New Year, let’s remember to develop ‘An Attitude of Gratitude’ for Mother Nature.

Now, Let’s cook some Pongal! Pongal can be a wholesome and healthy breakfast option for everyone. Here’s how to go about it.

Ven Pongal

Ven Pongal


Uncooked rice 1 cup (200gms) 
Moong dal ½ cup 
Black Pepper 3 tsp
Jeera(whole)  3  tsp
Asafoetida  2 tsp
Green chillies
Grated Ginger 
Cashew nuts 10
Ghee 4 tsp
Curry leaves 2 sprigs
Salt to taste


  1. Wash and cook rice and dal in 4 cups of water along with 1 tsp asafoetida, in a pressure cooker.
  2. In a pan, heat up 4 teaspoons of ghee and put the crushed jeera and pepper, cashew, asafoetida, grated ginger, green chillies and curry leaves.Add this to the cooked dal and rice mixture , add salt and mix them well. Ven Pongal is ready to serve.

This can be served with sambar and green chutney.

Sakkarai Pongal

Sakkarai Pongal (sweet Pongal)


Uncooked rice 1 cup    
Moong dal 3/4 cup 
Milk 1 cup        
Jaggery 2 cups
Cashew nuts 10 
Raisins 5-6
Ghee 4 tsp


  1. Wash the rice and dal. Add 4 cups water, 1 cup milk, 1/2 tsp ghee. Cook for 5 whistles on medium flame.
  2. In a pan put 2 cups of jaggery and add 1 cup water to it. Boil till it melts. Drain with a strainer to get a clear  jaggery solution.
  3. Mash the cooked rice and dal well. Add the jaggery solution and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. In a separate pan put 1 tsp ghee, to this add cashews, raisins and roast them golden.
  5. Add the roasted cashew, dry grapes and cardamom powder to the rice and dal mixed with jaggery. Mix well and add 2 tsp of ghee for that extra flavour. 

 Your yummy sweet Pongal is now ready to be relished!




Images used in this article are from the author’s collection.

A Teacher with St Xavier’s Collegiate school, Kolkata and also a theatre and film actor. Enjoys reading, writing poems, doing workshops for children and giving voice overs for advertisements and documentaries.

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