January 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Among the many Hindu festivals celebrated by the Tamil society in Malaysia, most people would be familiar with Thaipusam, which is celebrated in the month of ‘Thai’. Not many would know that prior to celebrating Thaipusam, there is another major festival that is widely celebrated amongst the Tamil communities known as Ponggal. The word ‘Ponggal’ actually means ‘boiling over’ in Tamil. This festival is usually celebrated over a period of four days, making it one of the longest celebrations in the Tamil calendar. The festival is celebrated on 15th January every year and is a much cherished celebration especially amongst the farming community, as usually the festival marks the end of harvesting season.

The celebration kicks off with ‘Bhogi’ festival, which is a thanksgiving occasion to the Lord Indra. This deity is worshipped by farmers for abundance in harvest. On this day, people will clean out their homes and decorate it with ‘Kolam’ – floor designs made with coloured harvested rice and with white paste as outline. Another ritual observed on this day is ‘Bhogi Mantalu’, where a huge bonfire is started and old or useless household items are thrown into it.

Kolam decoration for Ponggal Festival

The second day is known as ‘Surya Ponggal’ where the celebrations are dedicated to the Sun God. On this day, the celebrations will begin and it is also the first day of the Tamil month ‘Thai’. The womenfolk wakes up early to create elaborate designs of ‘kolam’ in front of their homes. Fresh milk is boiled in new pots until it overflows, before prepared rice, jaggery and other ingredients are added to it. The boiled milk and jaggery are then offered to the Sun God.

As cattle is a farmer’s best friend, ‘Maattu Ponggal’ is celebrated on the third day as a way of expressing gratitude for all of its contributions. Cattle are first washed before being adorned with flower garlands, multi-coloured beads and bells. They are then fed with the boiled milk and sweet rice and are then taken to the village centre. In Madurai India, a festival known as Jallikattu will be held on this day. Bundles of money are tied to the horns of a ferocious bull, after which the villagers will try to grab the money from its horns.

Maattu Ponggal

The fourth day of this Ponggal celebration is known as ‘Kaanum Ponggal’. Prayers are offered to the Sun God by its devotees. Womenfolk on this day also offer prayers for their brother’s wellbeing, with some even giving their brothers a gift on this day to show their love for them. People will also travel to visit their family members and homage is paid by the younger members of the family to the elders.

Photos (c) GoDakshin, sowri, Sunciti_Sundaram’s Gallery Galore

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