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Pongal Celebration in Malaysia - An Indian Thanksgiving Festival

Updated on April 3, 2014
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Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage and likes to share its mysteries, culture & current issues.

Pongal literally means "boiling over" and is celebrated by Tamils all over the world as a thanksgiving for a good harvest.
Pongal literally means "boiling over" and is celebrated by Tamils all over the world as a thanksgiving for a good harvest. | Source

Pongal, literally means "boiling over" is celebrated by Tamils all over the world as a Thanksgiving for a good harvest, and not just in India

Indians of Tamil origin that had migrated to other parts of the world, including Malaysia, continue to observed this festival with little changes to those observed in India.

The main celebration is to let the rice boil over with milk in a clay pot (see photo). This will imply future fortune for the family.

The Pongal festival is held through the first four days of the Thai month (Tamil month) and is usually in mid-January. This Thai month is considered the luckiest month of the year by the Tamil Indians.

When is Pongal in 2014?

Based on the Indian solar calendar, for 2014, Pongal will fall on Tuesday, January 14th. This non-religious Indian festival is not a public holiday in Malaysia and even in India, government offices and businesses remains open.

Individuals will have to take their own annual leave entitlement to observe Pongal celebration.

In 2015, Pongal will be on Thursday, January 15th.

Pongal Celebration in Malaysia

Preparing to Celebrate Pongal

A few days or even weeks before Pongal day, Malaysian housewives will be busy shopping for Pongal’s prayer items, spices and sweets to cook as offerings to deities. Clay pots, milk, ghee, cashew nuts, raisins, brown sugar, jasmine flower buds, and stalks of sugarcane are among the popular items on their shopping list. New clothes are not compulsory, but are in the list anyhow.

Hence, places like ‘Little India’ in Masjid India, Jalan Tun Sambantan and Sentul, in Kuala Lumpur, will be the busiest. As in any festivals, the day before the celebration, the shopping will reach its peak and traffic will be at the worst level.

Bhogi, first day of Celebration

The first day of the celebration is known as Bhogi and is the prelude to the next three days of festivities.

It is a day of purification for the soul and mind and this is done by taking an oil bath using sesame seed oil.

Then old clothes and unused stuffs are thrown away and burnt. This basically marks the start of a new beginning.

The devotees will then offer their prayers to the rain God, Indra. This is either done at homes or temples.

Pongal Day, Second Day of Celebration

The second day is the `Pongal' day and is celebrated by offering prayers to the Sun God, Surya.

Tamil devotees will go to temples and recite prayers, to thank the Sun God for a good harvest.

The popular temples for this prayer are the Sri Mahamariamman and the Batu Cave temples in Kuala Lumpur.

On this second day, they will also be cooking special dishes to offer to the deities. Sweet rice known as 'Pongal' will be cooked in a new clay pot, with fresh turmeric and ginger tied around it.

As the rice boils over and foams out of the clay pot, the Tamil devotees will shout "Pongalo Pongal". Watching the rice boils and foams out of the pot is a good omen as it means 'good blessing' and prosperity.

Once the Pongal is ready, it will be offered to the Sun God, Surya, in gratitude for the blessings given. Indian sweets, sugar cane, spices, etc. will also be part of the offerings to the deity. They will later eat these offerings as an act of cleansing themselves of their past sins.

Although Pongal is a harvest festival, Malaysian Tamils are not farmers. It is a tradition and believes that were brought over when they migrated from South India.

Also, in Malaysia, Pongal is celebrated among family members, unlike in India where it is with families and the local communities.

Sakkarai pongal, Indian sweet that is made of newly harvested rice, jaggery, ghee, raisin and cashew nuts, is offered to sun god.
Sakkarai pongal, Indian sweet that is made of newly harvested rice, jaggery, ghee, raisin and cashew nuts, is offered to sun god. | Source

Mattu Pongal, Third Day of Celebration

The third day is known as Mattu Pongal and is dedicated to the revered cows and buffaloes that helped tilled the land.

The practice of decorating them with garlands of flowers, tinkling bells and painting their horns are carried in the smaller town. City folks may go to the bigger temples to enjoy this.

Kaanum Pongal, the Fourth and Last Day

Kaanum Pongal, which is the fourth and last day of the celebration, is a day spent visiting relatives and friends.

Rangoli Kolam design for Pongal celebration
Rangoli Kolam design for Pongal celebration | Source

Rangoli Design or Kolam

Rangoli design or known as Kolam in Tamil Naidu is an intricate design drawn using colored rice flour. It is a significant part of Pongal rituals, as it symbolizes prosperity and contentment. It is also believed that kolam will ward off evil and other unwanted elements. Hence, it is usually drawn at the entrance to the house.

Birds and insects will also be fed on these rice flours that were used to draw the traditional Kolams. This represent man's concern for all animals.

Some families, instead of using rice flour, will draw Kolam using normal colored chalk crayons.

Green Mango Leaves & Sugar Cane For Pongal

Besides, Kolam, the Indians will adorn their main doorway with fresh mango leaves. This festoon, Toranam, is to keep the house clean of any stale air as green leaves will absorb carbon dioxide and in exchange, release oxygen.

Stalks of sugarcane will also be used during Pongal as it symbolizes sweetness and prosperity.

Both the Kolam and hanging of Toranam will be done very early in the morning of the first day of Bhogi.

Cook With New Pots

On that particular day, they will use new clay pots for cooking. This is done outside the house and must face the sun.

Toranam, which is fresh mango leaves festoon placed at doorways.
Toranam, which is fresh mango leaves festoon placed at doorways. | Source

Other Indian Festivals : Thaipusam and Diwali

I hope you enjoyed reading Pongal Celebration in Malaysia and learned something new on the cultures and traditions of other races around the world.

In the Tamil month of Thai, Tamils also celebrate Thaipusam, probably one of the most spectacular of all Tamil festivals.

Diwali is celebrated not just by Tamils, but by most Hindus all over the world.

You can read detailed description of these Indian festivals in here: Diwali and Thaipusam

These are just some of the festivals celebrated by Indians, not just in India, but the world over.

Below are links to my articles on Chinese Festivals that are celebrated in Malaysia.

Link to Chinese Festivals

Read how the Chinese community celebrate the New Lunar Year in Malaysia.

2012 is the year of dragon. Is it a good year for you?

Chinese believes in having a good and auspicious symbols. Read this article for more info.

Malaysia Otrumai Pongal

Pongal Song from India

© 2012 Mazlan

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