Pongal

Category: Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Pongal is a harvest and thanksgiving festival that takes place during the Tamil month of Thai which typically falls in January. The name of the festival is derived from the term pongo, which means to "boil over" or "overflow" in Tamil.

Pongal Bazaar at Campbell LanePongal Bazaar at Campbell Lane. Source: Roots.sg

One of the traditions of Pongal involves an early morning ritual of cooking rice and milk in an earthenware pot in the family compound. Families and friends would gather over the pot and when the milk boils over, they would shout "Pongalo! Pongal", to signify the overflowing of prosperity and good fortune.

A pongal dish can also be prepared as a temple offering or served at community gatherings. The dish consists of rice, milks, cane sugar and cardamom. In traditional contexts, the dish would be prepared using the new grains that had just been harvested. Some households would also add in other ingredients such as include cardamom, raisins and cashew nuts.

In South India, Pongal is celebrated over a period of four days, and takes place in conjunction with the harvest season of products such as rice, cereals and cane sugar. The first day involves festive activities such as songs and dances while the second day involves making offerings to Surya, the sun god. The offerings include pots of rice and milk that would be boiled. The third day, termed "Mattu Pongal", is a day for honouring cattle for the crucial role they play in the harvest season and the fourth day, "Kannam Pongal", involves rituals using turmeric leaf and coloured rice, which are carried out to seek blessings and prosperity for family members.

In Singapore's urban context, Pongal is still actively celebrated as a form of thanksgiving to farmers, natural elements such as rain, sun, earth, and cattle which contribute to the provision of food to families and communities. It is also an occasion to bond and strengthen ties between family members and friends.


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