Video: What is Pongal?

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Today is Pongal, a harvest festival celebrated in South India. In other parts of India the festival has different names: Sankranti, Lohri or Bihu. The underlying idea is the same – it is like the American Thanksgiving festival points out Dr. Geeta Vasudevan in the video interview below. Families get together, cook special dishes for the celebration, offer prayers and then sit down to eat a special Pongal meal. The  one main difference between Pongal and Thanksgiving is when the big meal is eaten. Pongal is typically a breakfast/brunch affair, while Thanksgiving meal tends to be a late lunch or an early dinner.

There is a set ritual that is followed for Pongal in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu. For starters, everyone is up pretty early on this day. The lady of the house is generally in charge of Pongal celebrations. The first thing she does is take a shower and either she or someone in the house decorates the front yard with kolam, which are these colorful, intricate geometrical patterns. Take a look at this video about kolam and the kolam maavu (powder) guy or the guy that sells the powder.

Once the house is swept and cleaned and the kolam decorations are taken care of, the next thing is to get the special food organized for the celebration. That special food is  Pongal – the centerpiece dish of the celebration. The dish is cooked with with the newly harvested rice.  There is a spicy and sweet version of Pongal and this is to to reflect the ups and downs of our lives. The pot of Pongal has to overflow since this signifies an overflow of abundance of food, joy and happiness as Dr. Vasudevan explains in this video.

An offering of the Pongal, along with sugar cane and flowers are laid out on a banana leaf and the family offers a prayer. And then they all sit down to eat their Pongal meal.

And, if you are lucky enough maybe you will get to see a traditional Pongal celebration at DakshinaChitra near Chennai. Here is a peek into Karagam dance performed by Noorjehan at Dakhshina Chitra.