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Why celebrate Pongal? - A festival in South India

Updated on February 9, 2013

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This Hub contains the views of the author alone and does not intend to hurt the sentiments of any sect/community.

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Pongal is a famous and important festival in South India which acts as a thanksgiving ceremony and harvest festival. Pongal marks the movement of Sun from South to North which is considered auspicious. Pongal is celebrated as Makara Sankranthi throughout India as the winter harvest.

Pongal is celebration time for farmers and they thank nature for aiding in producing a bumper harvest. It is celebrated on the first day of "Thai" month and it is considered highly auspicious and marks the beginning of good things and a new harvest season. Cows are considered divine in India as they aid in farming and are integral in every aspect of farming, though nowadays, we have machines replacing them in ploughing and chemicals replacing their dung as manure. On the day after Pongal, "Maattu Pongal" is celebrated. Farmers worship cows and thank them for all the help in their farming endeavors.

Pongal is one festival which makes a lot of sense to me as I can understand the reason for the celebrations. Farmers are the backbone of any country and it is apt for them to thank nature for sustained farming throughout the year. Considering the state of farmers and farming today, the relevance of celebrating Pongal in cities does not seem to make any sense.

The number of farmer suicides in the last ten years is over 1.5 lakhs in India. Statistics say that every 12 hours, one farmer attempts to commit suicide in India. Some reasons for these suicides are:

1. Growing expenditue
2. Low Productivity
3. Natural Hazards
4. Drinking habit
5. Accumulated burden of debt

We have ignored all this and all we do is just celebrate pongal by eating sweets and savories. How many of us actually understand the reason behind celebration of Pongal? Farmers are in villages and we are in cities happily leading our lives not concerned about their life and fate!

What do we do for the farmers? We read about their suicides in newspapers and just discuss about them. We discuss about Organic Farming and why it is not being implemented by all farmers. We talk about Global Warming and various other factors that disrupt farming like low rainfall or floods unaware of the fact what we do in cities also destroys nature which gets reflected in villages. We blame the government for not taking any step to save farmers. In spite of all this, we celebrate Pongal - the farmer's festival with all grandeur.

We still seem to hold on to the ritual part of it, not understanding the meaning behind them. So we are far away from the farmers and it is practically not possible to go to help them in person always. What do we do to protect nature? Nature is the reason we can do farming and in turn eat, but all we do is do everything that destroys nature in one way or the other. Altogether, we do not do anything productive to save farms or farmers, but then celebrate Pongal - Have holidays, go for Pongal release movies, eat sumptuous meals at home, watch television whole day, gossip about useless things.

Then comes the "Kanu" function - offering food for ancestors who are believed to be in the form of crows. We offer food to the crows in different non-edible forms in multiple colours which is nothing but absolute waste of food, when millions in your country are dying without food! We do not understand the reason behind this ritual but waste so much rice. Venting about Kanu can be another hub altogether!

Quoting Bharathiyar - Nenju Porukkudhillaye Indha Nilai Ketta maandharai Ninaithu vittal - (Heart bleeds to think about the senseless humans)

Great Views on Pongal Celebration

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      Ramya Thulasiraman 4 years ago

      Deepika,

      Well said.

      I totally agree with u since I have the same questions too. People in cities celebrating pongal may be for this reason. They relate the "pongum pongal" with wealth, health, auspiciousness, prosperity and all those wish-list stuff in their life. Secondary reasons would be TV programs, holidays and of course food! This is only for people who cook in claypots. For others it would be the secondary reason ;-P

      To top it up comes the "seer". I seriously do not understand the point of it when it comes for urban working women. People like Nasser or others having relative farmers (who are affected) will ignore celebrations. That is quiet natural! At least some change/awareness is much better than sitting idle, eating and watching TV :)

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      Exactly Ramya. I completely agree with you. The reason I shared Naser's video is people stop and listen to something when it is told by a celebrity.

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      Archana 4 years ago

      I agree on most of the things. But the concept of Kanu is itself to prepare the urundais with leftovers. I don't think it's a good idea to feed the hungry with leftovers. But how many of them prepare it with leftovers is another question.

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      @Archana.. Why have left over? Isn't that wastage? If you give the extra rice the same day, I am sure it is good for the hungry. Why wait for the next day?

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      srikala 4 years ago

      You have expressed my views verbatim on this . Thanks.

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      @Srikala-That's great! Its indeed surprising to know you share similar thoughts!

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      Hamsini 4 years ago

      @Deepika: How productive were u to the farmers on Pongal day.

      Did you not watch TV? Did you not spend time with your family? Did you not go for movies? Did you not go for shopping?

      Were u starving to show your grief to the poor farmers....Or were you in the fields, consoling the poor farmers and their families?

      Read these quotes a million times before you think of writing a blog my dear!

      “There should be less talk; a preaching point is not a meeting point. What do you do then? Take a broom and clean someone's house. That says enough" - Mother Teresa

      “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” - Mahatma Gandhi

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      @Hamsini: Thanks for the comment!

      I did not celebrate or go for movies or shop anything! I think that itself is an action! Through my blog, I am not trying to preach anyone! I am just trying to say that Pongal is highly irrelevant in cities. Had I said all this staying in a village, then your comment is very valid.

      If all of us start starving to support them, farmers will have one more reason to be sad! :)

      Cheers,

      Deepika

    • C.V.Rajan profile image

      Disillusioned 4 years ago from Kerala, India

      Hamsini,

      To be a good, religious person one should (1) Follow traditions without thinking about their meaning and significance (2) On festivals, eat, drink and make merry, but avoid thinking about God (3) oppose those who question LOGICALLY the lack of relevance behind such celebrations.

      C.V.

    • C.V.Rajan profile image

      Disillusioned 4 years ago from Kerala, India

      For such of you who really want to help the poor farmers who commit suicide, here is an opportunity. Mata Amritanandamayi Math is doing a massive rehabilitation program for the families of farmers who committed suicide and also help out farmers to face the vagaries of nature.

      Govt. of India has sanctioned 100% tax exemption to the donors for the amounts donated to this project.

      Those who want to contribute can send their cheques payable to :"MA Math - Farmers Rehabilitation Project" and send to the following address:

      Mata Amritanandamayi Math

      Amritapuri P.O

      PIN: 690 525

      Dist. Kollam, Kerala

      (Phone. +91-476-289-7578, +91-476-289-6399)

      Please give your full address, contact phone number and PAN number while making the contribution.

      Since projects like these are managed mostly by volunteers (Amma's brahmacharis and devotees) you can expect that quite a bulk of the donation will definitely reach the end purpose and not get fretted away on administrative expenditure.

      Namah Shivaya

      C.V.

    • profile image

      DD 4 years ago

      @CV....seriyana sirippu police sir neeenga! Heehheehaaahaa

    • profile image

      DD 4 years ago

      @Hamsini: Madam, CV is consistently like this for the past few years. So please don't take him seriously.

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      @DD: You don't seem to care about your off-hand comments, then why bother hiding your identity?

    • C.V.Rajan profile image

      Disillusioned 4 years ago from Kerala, India

      @DD

      There should be a correction. I have been consistently like this for several decades (not past few years!)

      Regarding "Sirippu police" I take it a s compliment for being humorous. (unfortunately some people not endowed with common sense take what I talk seriously as joke and what I say jokingly -- seriously! That's not MY fault!

      C.V.

    • profile image

      DD 4 years ago

      Ms Deepika, revealing my identity is off less consequence but I have no issues whatsoever letting you know who i am..

      I am DD (Dasarthy Devanathan) and that's what people call me and it's not a name I hide behind. I am from Chennai but work in a different metropolitan city as a Chef for the past 30 yrs.

      The idea of any festival, whether it is religious or purely cultural is to bring the family together. Fun frolic laughter.. meeting the family and gossiping is probably a once in a while occasion, since in today's world no one really has the time. I hope and presume ur family falls under the same category..???!!

    • profile image

      DD 4 years ago

      With such indifference towards ones own festivals in terms of their irrelevance, not sure what drove you to celebrate Christmas with children in school. Did you stick to its relevance by telling them The story of Jesus..how he was born ..how he was crucified? Wouldn't that have made you a More RELEVANT teacher... ;)

    • profile image

      DD 4 years ago

      It takes 2mins to shoot down the relevance of anything but takes a lifetime of research to prove it....especially for it to have some credibility. End of day, its not like 'one of the movies' people go and watch during a festival right?

      And to conclude... 'My off hand comments are much more MILD compared to all your off hand writings'

    • C.V.Rajan profile image

      Disillusioned 4 years ago from Kerala, India

      DD,

      Glad to know about you.

      You have indeed made some valid remarks that I have to agree with you. It is true that if Deepika could have done explaining about Jesus Christ it would have been more appropriate. But there could have been too many practical limitations to it.

      1) Vast majority love to have the fun and frolic of festivals only and have no interest in the religious and spiritual relevance behind them. Naturally, the schools too fit into the same category.

      2) Her school being a non-christian school, how for it would be welcome to explain story of Jesus is a difficult question to answer.

      3) If a Christian school does it and if several Hindu students study there, then probably many Hindu parents would complain about the "missionary zeal"!

      4) 2nd standard children would just love the fun part of it only (particularly Santa Claus!) and they are indeed too young for anything else.

      When elders too are only interested on the fun part of the festival and they get irritated if anyone points out the loss of relevance of the originally intended custom, why go and indoctrinate little children?

      C.V.

    • profile image

      DD 4 years ago

      Dear Sir and madam, It is pointless ..saying anything on this blog further …and I consider it as waste of time and breath to even write back to an immature father and daughter duo, who are restricted by their cynical yet assuming radical views of the world. You are neither.

      Firstly, It’s time you visited some Christian schools to understand their teaching mechanism, rather than restrict yourself with your narrow-minded views. Also, would you suggest it appropriate that one checks with your daughter’s school on whether talking about Jesus Christ would be viewed as missionary zeal??? Forget the story of Jesus, at-least did your daughter talk about who Santa Claus..was?? the reindeer...the north pole???

      Christian schools, of course.. talk about all festivals and their relevance.

      Lastly, if you say adults get irritated or whatever, it is these children, who become adults tomorrow. So you might as well educate and correct them young so that when they grown they wouldn’t be writing rubbish blogs.

    • profile image

      Hari 4 years ago

      @ DD - Please do not waste your time in trying to provide feedback or try to reason out to immature individuals.

      The responsibility any author is to write a blog with enough research material to back her views / ideas. When she is questioned on the credibility of her views, all she does would be to hide behind her father, who would jump in to take the fight out to the person questioning.

      This shows the tendency of wanting to take cover and dodge the intellectual debate that follows any good authors. (Be it good or bad).

      The self proclaimed amateur writers, tend to take criticism personally and assume that they being radical and expressing radical views would make them a level above average thinkers. Unfortunately this is not the case. The more you try to reason out with them, the more you are wasting your valuable time, effort, energy.

      I would say let these hypocritical authors continue to write what they want, and i would suggest that just ignoring their blog would take away the undue importance given to them.

      Disclaimer: This is not intended to hurt any individual person, community, religion or sect.

    • C.V.Rajan profile image

      Disillusioned 4 years ago from Kerala, India

      Hello Mr Hari (er... Mr DD!)

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      Hello all.. first of all, I have no reason to hide behind my father, he has taught me to be independent! Next, we have spoken a lot about a lot of things but none of you seem to have any point about relevance of celebrating pongal in cities! You seem to only try to provoke me which is sadly not working which is precisely why I have approved your comments to appear visible to everyone. :-)

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I had never heard about Pongal. So, I learn something new from you. Thanks for writing and share with us. I had to vote this one WAY up - aweseome!

      Prasetio

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      Thanks Prasetio :-)

    • C.V.Rajan profile image

      Disillusioned 4 years ago from Kerala, India

      Deepi,

      Hope you know why. Suddenly the picture of Vadivelu with a tuft of hair at the top of his head (what's that movie?) came into my mind yesterday!

      C.V.

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      @Appa: Vada poche! ;)

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      Eezeefy 4 years ago

      Pongal is a very special occasion for more reasons than one. Over the time, the true essence of this festival has been traded for our convenience. After all, Pongal is assumed to be the “harvest” festival and it has been ages since most of us in the cities have done any harvesting. Does it mean the significance of this festival is lost to us?

      Bhogi precedes Pongal for most communities in South of India. On this day, people clean their homes and comb out all old, objects. They gather these items and burn them. It is meant to symbolize the end of all things unnecessary. The flames that destroy the traces of these unwanted “bad” items signify the eternal flames that cleanse our being, ridding us of our sins and thoughtless acts. Now, we are as a culture moving in to a phase wherein a constant need to prove and ridicule “traditions” is rampant. These traditions tend to seem irrelevant and pointless. Probably, because our traditions are very intuitive. They believed that we are aware, that we have the power of free will, to experience, to choose.

      Rather approach to religions was simple. To elaborate, take the example of a drop of honey spilled on the floor. The ants attracted to it would tend to go looking for the pot that contains it instead of merely being content with just a little drop. Similarly is the approach to life; religions are a way to explore them. It can either work for you or not. It is up to the individual to exercise one’s discretion on how one would like to approach living. But that includes giving traditions a chance. Since certain practices are so intuitive, it is hard to explain them.

      Let’s use the concept of Bhogi itself. How does burning something physically cleanse an abstract variable within you? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. It is also about the timing: this is when the Sun moves to the North side from the South. The period is referred to as Uttarayana Punyakalam and most likely, like this year begins on the 14th of January according to the Indian calendars. This is our springtime, when things come alive. There is such great bustling of activity in the soil and plants. No wonder this time is considered to be the time when the Gods come alive.

      So, Bhogi is a way of de-cluttering not only our physical space but also a time to reflect on all the patterns in our life. It is these patterns that either makes us a well formed individual or a bitter one. The point is we are here to exist. Even Pongal in itself is very perceptive. The term means “spilling over/ boiling over”. The explanation is life around us is warming up (due to the grand arrival of the Sun), that we have so much sweetness in our lives it is spilling over- that we have enough and more to share with the rest of the world.

      The practices of cleaning the home, decorating it with vivid kolams and bright decorations, the feast prepared: all of these were a consequence of the joy that people felt. It was their simple happiness of having the sun back and of life hastening in new experiences that they celebrated. In a way, Pongal is not a mere regional celebration but ‘the’ celebration of life itself. In the light of all that was said above, why not celebrate Pongal every day?

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      @Eezeefy: Thanks for such an insightful comment. Understanding the real meaning behind the festival and acting accordingly is what I want to do. Going just by the rituals doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I am not really sure how many of us celebrate Bhogi to cleanse our soul, if that is indeed the real purpose. I have seen people burning odd things (not old) just to celebrate Bhogi! The relevance d0es not seem to be prevalent. We just seem to go by the different physical protocols for a religion rather than the true meaning!

    • C.V.Rajan profile image

      Disillusioned 4 years ago from Kerala, India

      In Chennai, common people burn old rubber tyres during bhogi and it creates such a bad pollution that police dept. invariably makes announcements warning people not to burn rubber tyres. They even warn of stern punishment. But nothing really happens! People continue to burn tyres and you end up getting a huge fog on bhogi day morning in Chennai!

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      deepak.das631@gmail.com 3 years ago

      Deepak

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      devilaal 2 years ago

      awesoome but not t my level

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      Bala 2 years ago

      This year I didn't noticed much people celebrating, just people casually relaxing as like as on Sunday (weekly off) as they got holiday. Casually checked with people but most of the people doesn't know what, how & why do we celebrate Pongal, however most of the people aware of Diwali. Situation came to think what will happen to indian culture.

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      aabha 23 months ago

      cool info. thanks

    • Deepika Arun profile image
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      Deepika Arun 23 months ago from Chennai, India

      Thank You!

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      Bunny 18 months ago

      A very good thing we have learnt from u thank U

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