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Pongal (பொங்கல் in Tamil), also called Sankranti in some places (ಸ೦ಕ್ರಾ೦ತಿ in Kannada), is an Indian harvest and a thanksgiving festival. Pongal literally means boiling over. It is traditionally celebrated at the time of harvest of crops and hence is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the event.
Pongal is historically a Dravidian festival and independent of religion (Dravidian culture is free from religion). And it is celebrated by all people in South India, notably Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Because of Dravidian-Aryan sharing of culture, Pongal also came to be celebrated by Hindus in nothern India. Hence, Pongal is sometimes wrongly called as Hindu festival.
Pongal is also known as Tamizhar Thirunal or The Festival of Tamils. In Tamil, there is a saying, Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum (தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும்), literally meaning, the birth of the month of Thai will pave way for new opportunities.
The festival is celebrated for four days. On, the first day, Bhogi, the old clothes and materials are thrown away and fired, marking the beginning of a new life. The second day, the Pongal day, is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and Jaggery early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel - a tradition that is the literal translation for Pongal (in Tamil). People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each other's homes, and exchange greetings. The third day, Mattu Pongal, is meant to offer thanks to the cows and buffaloes, as they are used to plough the lands. Jallikattu, a violent taming the bull contenst, marks this day. On the last day, Kanum Pongal, the word "kanum" literally meaning 'to view' - youngsters used to gather at river banks to view and select their future life partners (which has fallen out of practice currently). During the pongal season, people eat sugar canes and decorate the houses with kolam.
In Karnataka, the festival is marked by visiting one's friends and relatives to exchange greetings, and by the preparation of a dish called Ellu (made with sesame seeds, coconuts, sugar blocks, etc). A common custom found across Karnataka is the exchange of sugarcane pieces and Ellu with one's neighbors, friends and relatives.
While being predominantly a South Indian festival, the day is also celebrated in several other places under different names. In northern India, it is called Makar Sankranti. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, it is the annual kite-flying day. It is also the harvest festival in Punjab and Haryana, where it is celebrated as Lohri.
Pongal, a dish
Pongal is a famous South Indian food. It's available as 1. Sarkarai Pongal (Sweet Pongal), 2. Kara Pongal (Spicy Pongal). The pongal that is prepared at the time of Pongal festival is Sarkarai (sweet) Pongal. Rest of the seasons, pongal usually will refer to Kara (spicy) Pongal, which is a typical breakfast.
Pongal as a Hindu festival
Pongal is independent of religion and celebrated by all, though sometimes it is used to refer to a Hindu festival.
The festival has astronomical significance: it marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the Sun's movement northward for a six month period. In Hinduism, Uttarayana is considered auspicious, as opposed to Dakshinaayana, or the southern movement of the sun. All important events are scheduled during this period. Makara Sankranthi refers to the event of the Sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.
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