Celebrated in India and Sri Lanka, Thai Pongal is a much-celebrated harvest festival that occurs between the last day of Margazhi and the third month of Thai in the Tamil calendar, or between January 13th to January 16th in the Gregorian calendar.
It is one of the few Hindu holidays that is based on a solar calendar instead of a lunar one. That’s because its celebration is to venerate and show appreciation to the Sun God for a bountiful harvest.
The history of Thai Pongal can be traced back over 2000 years, all the way back to 200 BCE. It is based on a set of dual legends. The first legend involves Lord Shiva asking his bull Basava to go down to earth and relay a message for him to mortal man.
The message was that men and women should eat once a month and take an oil bath every single day. However, when Basava relayed the message to mankind, he got it wrong. He told them they should take an oil bath every month and eat every day.
This enraged Lord Shiva, so he cursed Basava and forced him to live on Earth forever, all the while tending the fields of mankind. The second legend involves Lord Indra and Lord Krishna. It goes something like this: When Lord Krishna was a child he decided to teach a lesson to Lord Indra to take him down a notch.
Krishna went down to Earth and told all of the cow herders to stop worshiping Indra – which angered him furiously. In a rage, Lord Indra sent rains for three continuous days. To save humanity from drowning, he raised Mount Govardhan.
Realizing his mistake – and the diving power of Lord Indra – Krishna repented for his trick. It is these two stories that make up the theme of this holiday period.
Customs and Observances
Thai Pongal is celebrated for three days. On the first day, a special puja (reverent religious ceremony) is held. Farmers also go out to the fields to anoint their sickles and plows with a sandalwood paste to thank the Earth and the sun. After this is done, they harvest the year’s rice yield.
Many also boil rice in pots to celebrate the bounty of the harvest. The rest of the three days are marked by several festivals within the festival. Each commemorates a different aspect of the Thai Pongal harvest.