Thai (January) is an auspicious month, a period to begin new ventures after the gloomy period of Maarkali (December).  There is a Tamil saying “தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும்” which means “The dawn of the month of Thai, is the beginning of the new path”. Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season.  The crops are brought home and stored up.  The new rice obtained from those crops is ready for Pongal.  Since this Pongal is performed in the month of Thai, it is called “Thai Pongal”.

Thai Pongal is a celebration of the Tamil community that highlights the core values of their culture and civilization. It is a sacred day when gratitude is expressed to the Sun God for the bountiful harvest gathered. The agrarian society possesses a deep reverence for the Sun God that goes back centuries. The Thai Pongal Festival personifies this tradition with meaning by consecrating the first fruits to Sun God who enables a rich harvest every year. The animals who contribute towards a successful crop are also taken into account at Thai Pongal. These vibrant traditions reinforce the close bond between man and nature in a meaningful way.

Traditionally, Thai Pongal is celebrated for four days.  The day before the Pongal is devoted to cleaning. It is time for the new to replace the old. Huge bonfires are lit and all unwanted items around the house are consigned to the flames. Traditionally all old clay utensils were ritually broken and fresh stocks were obtained.  With the advent of plastics and aluminum, this ritual has now become symbolic. On Pongal Day, families and friends will gather to give thanks for a plentiful harvest and to cook and share Pongal. The day after Pongal is devoted to cattle which play an integral role in agriculture and farming, providing dairy products and fertilizer whilst lending their strength toward ploughing and transporting goods by drawing carts. The day serves as an appreciation of their hard work.  On the fourth, they visit their relatives and friends’ homes and exchange presents.

Thai Pongal is celebrated by Tamils all over the world as an occasion of considerable religious significance. But at the same, it is celebrated as the Thai Pongal Festival in which the farmers celebrate the event to thank the spirits of nature, the Sun and the farm animals for their assistance in providing a successful harvest. The rest of the people celebrate the festival to pay their thanks to the farmers for the production of food. Overall, it is a festival to encourage social cohesiveness and unite people by bringing them together in a common function.

I join in the prayers on this Thai Pongal day, for stronger bonds of friendship, mutual understanding, and trust among all communities in the absence of fear and suspicion!  May this Thai Pongal Day be a time to reflect on our respect for nature and an opportunity to share fellowship as an equal society!