Pongal is popularly celebrated in South India among the people of Tamil Nadu. It is a festival that thanks the Sun God and Lord Indra for helping farmers in getting better-yielding crops. Beautiful kolam designs and delicious Pongal – both sweet and khara, are all part of the four-day celebration.

Pongal generally falls in the month of January near Lohri. It is also known as Makar Sankranti, in some parts of the country. The Pongal festival is all about celebrating the harvest among the people of Tamil Nadu. For Tamilians, it is one of the most auspicious festivals. 

The beginning of Pongal celebrations marks the start of the Sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttarayanam). The word Pongal roughly translates to “spilling over” and the festival derives its name from the tradition of boiling rice in a pot till it starts overflowing. Other popular traditions during Pongal celebrations include drawing of rangolis and preparing dishes using authentic Pongal recipes. The traditional sweet dish, popularly known as sweet Pongal, is made from newly-harvested rice. Jallikattu, a traditional bull-taming event, is held during Pongal.

The History & Significance Of Pongal Festival

On this auspicious day, Tamilians decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves. They also use decorative patterns drawn using rice flour to welcome health and prosperity into their household. The Pongal significance lies in an auspicious period referred to as Uttarayana Punyakalam in Hindu mythology. Marking the arrival of spring in the entire northern hemisphere, the history of the festival can be traced back to thousand years ago in the Sangam Age i.e. 200 B.C. To 300 A.D. 

Pongal originated as a Dravidian harvest festival and has a mention in Sanskrit Puranas.  According to the legends, this is the period when the Devas wake up after a half a year-long slumber and bestow wealth and prosperity on earth. It is a common belief that people who die during Uttarayana attain salvation as according to the Mahabharata, Bheeshma also waited for the dawn of Uttarayana to give up his life. 

The Four Days Of Pongal Celebration

The four-day-long Pongal festival falls between 14th January to 17th January, and each of the four days signify different meanings.

1. The Bhogi Festival

The first day of Pongal is the Bhogi festival and is dedicated to Lord Indra, the lord of rain. The ritual of Bhogi Mantalu is also observed on this day and all the items of the household which are useless are thrown in a bonfire. The bonfire is made of cow dung cakes and wood.

2. Thai Pongal

The second day of Pongal is dedicated to the Sun Lord. On this day, families prepare Pongal. There are variations of the dish – sakkarai Pongal, khara Pongal. Prepared in a clay pot with a delicious mix of rice, milk, green gram (moong,) jaggery, spices, nuts and dry fruits. It is first served to the Lord of Sun and later distributed among the family and neighbours. 

Kolam for Pongal is another important aspect of this day. It is a paste made of rice flour and water or milk or coconut water. On this day, hand-drawn traditional designs are sketched at the entrance of houses with lime powder. Kolum is an auspicious drawing that must be done early in the morning and only after a bath.

3. Mattu Pongal

The third day of Pongal festival is dedicated to cows and is known as Mattu Pongal. Cows and cattle are adorned with bells, sheaves of corn, garlands and worshipped. 

4. Kaanum Pongal

Marking the end of Pongal festival is the Kaanum or Kanu. On this day, the women of the household carry out a ritual in the name of their brothers and pray for their prosperity. There the leftover sweets of Pongal and other foods are put out in the courtyard. They are set on a washed turmeric leaf along with betel leaves, betel nuts, and sugar cane.

During these four auspicious days, women wear sarees or pavada, while men don the angavastram. Gifting employees, relatives, friends and family members is also an integral part of Pongal. Traditional gifts such as an idol or image of the Hindu sun god, decorative items, wooden handicraft items or household items such as utensils are a typical choice.

The exclusive gifts given to the labourers for Pongal are called Pongal padi or Pongal parisu.

4 Popular Pongal Recipes That You Must Try

Celebrating the Pongal festival calls for some authentic and delicious Pongal recipes. Here is a list of dishes that will leave your guests licking their fingers. Included are a variety of sweet Pongal recipes as well as khara Pongal recipes!

1. Chakkara Pongal

Chakkara Pongal is also known as Sweet Pongal or Sakkarai Pongal. The Chakkara Pongal recipe is made during the Pongal festival with moong dal, jaggery and rice with freshly harvested grains.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

For Pressure Cooking: 

  • ½ cup of rice, soaked 
  • ¼ cup of moong dal, soaked
  • 2¼ cup water

For Jaggery Water:

  • ¾ cup jaggery (gud)
  • ¼ cup water

For Frying Dry Fruits:

  • 2 teaspoon ghee
  • 10 whole cashew (kaju)
  • 2 tablespoon raisins (kishmish)
  • 1 clove (lavang)

Other Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup of water, to adjust consistency
  • 2 tablespoon ghee
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder (elaichi powder)
  • Small piece edible camphor (pacha karpooram)

Method:

  1. Firstly, in a pressure cooker take ½ cup of rice and ¼ cup of moong dal (both soaked for 15 minutes)
  2. Add in 2¼ cup water and pressure cook for 4-5 whistles.
  3. Make sure the dal and rice is cooked completely.
  4. In a pan take ¾ cup jaggery and ¼ cup water.
  5. Keep stirring till the jaggery melts completely.
  6. Now filter the jaggery water into cooked rice-dal mixture.
  7. Add ¼ cup water or more adjusting consistency as required.
  8. Simmer for 2 minutes or till jaggery combines well with rice-dal mixture.
  9. Add in 2 tablespoon ghee and give a good mix till the Sakkarai Pongal turns glossy.
  10. Now in a small kadai heat 2 teaspoon ghee and fry 10 whole cashews, 2 tablespoon raisins and 1 clove.
  11. Pour the fried cashews and kishmish into sweet Pongal.
  12. Also add ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder and small piece of edible camphor. Mix well.
  13. Finally, Sweet Pongal / Sakkarai Pongal is ready to offer to the Goddess.

2. Akkaravadisal

Akkaravadisal recipe is a traditional Pongal recipe prepared with milk sweet Pongal where the rice and dal is cooked entirely in milk and a generous amount of ghee and sweetener. This sweet Pongal recipe is sure to be a hit in your home.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups milk
  • 1.5 tablespoon moong dal
  • ½ cup raw rice
  • 1.25 cups jaggery
  • ⅛ teaspoon cardamom powder (elaichi powder)
  • ½ cup ghee
  • 1 pinch saffron (kesar)
  • 2 tablespoons cashews roasted in ghee

Method:

  1. Take a thick bottomed pan and add milk to it.
  2. When it’s boiling, add moong dal and washed rice to it.
  3. Mix well and let it cook in medium heat until rice is soft. Stir often.
  4. Meanwhile, melt 1.25 cups of jaggery with very little water until it is melted. strain and keep it aside.
  5. When the rice is cooked, add the jaggery syrup, cardamom powder and ½ the amount of ghee
  6. Mix well and cook till it is bubbling and thick.
  7. Add saffron threads and remaining ghee. mix well. Cook for another minute and serve it hot!

3. Ven Pongal 

The Ven Pongal recipe is a simple and quick recipe typically served for breakfast. It is a savoury and spicy dish, made from moong dal, rice and other spices. 

 Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

For Pressure Cooking:

  • 1 teaspoon clarified butter (ghee)
  • ½ cup rice, rinsed
  • ½ cup moong dal, rinsed
  • 4 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt

For Tempering:

  • 2 tablespoon clarified butter (ghee)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (jeera)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper, crushed
  • 1 inch ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 chilli, slit
  • 10 cashew (kaju)
  • Pinch asafoetida (hing)

Method:

  1. Firstly, in a pressure cooker heat 1 teaspoon ghee.
  2. Add ½ cup rice, ½ cup moong dal and sauté for a minute or until it turns aromatic.
  3. Further, add 4 cup water and ½ teaspoon salt. mix well.
  4. Cover and pressure cook for 5 whistles on medium flame.
  5. Once the pressure settles down, open the cooker and give a good mix.
  6. furthermore, in a pan heat 2 tablespoons ghee.
  7. Also add 1 teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon pepper, 1-inch ginger, 2 chillies, 10 cashews and pinch hing.
  8. Sauté on low flame until cashew turns golden brown.
  9. Pour the tempering over cooked rice and dal mixture.
  10. Give a good mix, add more ghee if required.
  11. Finally, serve Ven Pongal / Khara Pongal with coconut chutney and sambar.

4. Bisi Bele Bath

Sweet Pongal recipes and Ven Pongal recipes are definitely a hit during Pongal celebrations. But this Bisi Bele Bath recipe will tickle your taste buds with its warm and delicious flavours. 

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 4 teaspoon chana dal
  • 2 teaspoon urad dal
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (jeera)
  • ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 3 pods cardamom (elachi)
  • 1 inch cinnamon (dalchini)
  • 4 cloves (lavang)
  • 2 tablespoons dry coconut (copra)
  • 2 teaspoon poppy seeds (khus khus)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (til)
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 12 dried Kashmiri red chilli
  • Few curry leaves
  • Pinch of asafoetida (hing)

Other Ingredients:

  • ½ carrot, chopped
  • 5 beans, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons peas (matar)
  • ½ potato (aloo), cubed
  • 2 tablespoons peanuts
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric (haldi)
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup tamarind extract
  • ½ teaspoon jaggery
  • ½ onions, petals
  • 1 cup toor dal, cooked
  • 2½ cup rice, cooked
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon ghee

For Tempering:

  • 2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard (rai)
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • Pinch of asafoetida (hing)
  • Few curry leaves
  • 10 whole cashew (kaju)

Method:

  1. Firstly, cook vegetables, 2 tablespoons peanuts, 2 cups water, ¼ teaspoon turmeric and 1 teaspoon salt.
  2. Now add ¾ cup tamarind extract, ½ teaspoon jaggery and ½ onions. Boil for 10 minutes.
  3. Further add 1 cup of cooked toor dal, 2½ cup of cooked rice and 1 cup water.
  4. Add 4 teaspoon of Bisi Bele Bath masala and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Pour the tempering and serve Bisi Bele Bath with boodi or mixture. 

The harvest festival is a festival with many names, including Lohri and Makar Sankranti. But sentiments, culture and importance are the same across the country. The South has Sakkarai Pongal and Chakkara Pongal recipes which are famous for their warm flavours and they are as delicious as the Sarson Ka Aaag and Makki Ki Roti of the North. The festival teaches unity, and that even though the traditions and dishes are different, the emotions and values are the same.