Sunday, January 14, 2007


Pongal, or Sankranthi as it is known in Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, is a very important festival in the Hindu calendar. It is a harvest festival in most parts of India. (In Kerala of course, Onam is the harvest festival).

This is the day that the Sun God starts His journey towards the north and hence it is the first day of Uttarayana which extends upto about 15th of July. Uttarayana is considered to be the most holiest half of the year. In Bhagavad Gita, the Lord says, "I am Uttarayana among the ayanas."

It is known as Makara Sanakranthi in Kerala and is celebrated by all. One who does not observe Makara Sankranthi is comapred to a wild fowl. There is a saying, “Kattukozhikkendu Makara Sankranthi?” meaning "what does a wild fowl know about Makara Sankranthi?"

In Kerala, in the olden days (I really don’t know what they do now), the houses were cleaned thoroughly and white washed before Sankranthi. Even in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there is a thorough cleaning of the houses. In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, all old things are thrown out and a big bonfire is made on the day before Pongal, which is called Bhogi fire. The day before Pongal is celebrated as Bhogi. In Andhra Pradesh, Makara Sankranthi is known as Pedda Panduga or "The Big Festival” and is celebrated in a grand manner, similar to Onam in Kerala. In Tamil Nadu Pongal is celebrated in a big way.

Bhogi is also celebrated in a big way in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In Kerala it is the Sankranthi day that is the big day. This day has become more significant in Kerala, especially in the recent times, because of the Makara Jyothi day of Sabarimala (On Sankranthi day, a light mysteriously appears in the distance near Sabarimala, it is taken to be a sign from the Lord Ayyappa to His devotees). Awareness about the Jyothi is growing thanks to the direct telecast of the appearance of the “Jyothi” and the accompanied special poojas at Sabarimala.

All festivals in India have their own special food. For Bhogi in Tamil Nadu, the special dishes prepared are Poli or Boli (Obattu in Kannada) and Aama vadai (Ambode in Kannada, Parippu vada in Malayalam).

Poli is similar to stuffed Parathas, except that the covering dough is made of Maida. The stuffing is made of either Bengal gram dal and jaggery or Bengal gram dal, coconut and jaggery.

Aama vadai or Ambode is prepared with bengal gram dal, toor dal and urad dal.


Anonymous said...

i still remember the preparations in our house a few days before the chankranti. my echiyamma patti will tell my father to remind the karyastan (the head worker) to remind abt the cleaning for chankranti. her concern was she has to ask my mother to prepare food for him. she has to prepare as much food as which is required for 5 of us. she used to enjoy feeding fhe poor. on the eve of chankranti when we returned to our house at the end of the days play, when the golden rays of evening light still on the horizon we cud see the girls smearing the front of the house with cow dung and after it dries they will draw big kolams with the help of an aluminium cylindrical templates. since my sisters were married by that time we boys used to draw the kolams in frontg of the house. we also used to fight between the 5 whose line is straight and whose is slanting.we also used to help our neighbour like singari mami and bhagavathy patti whose children were in towns. i wud like to know if drawing of these kolams are still being done will any puthucodians help.

multisubj yb said...

Informative. Thank you. But calling people "wild fowl" is not good.

Ammupatti said...

It is not me who is calling the people “wild fowl”.It is an old saying, which was repeated whenever anyone faulted in observing an age old custom.

renuramanath said...

hi ammupatti,
that one about the sankranthi was nice. but i think there are a few 'factual errors.'

the sankranthi celebrated in kerala with ritualistic cleaning of the house and premises is the 'Karkitaka Sankranthi,' which is on the day before the first day of the month of Karkidakam. Or, the last day of Mithunam. On that day, the households in central kerala, especially, used to cast off 'Potti,' or Jyeshta Bhagavathy (considered to be the personification of all that was inauspicious) and welcome Sree Bhagavathy (or, the Goddess of plenty and prosperity). The traditional practise was to gather a lot of 'inauspicious objects' like fallen hair, cobwebs, et al., in an old 'muram' and throw it out chanting 'potti purathu, seevothi akathu.' All the house will be cleaned and spruced up, furniture scrubbed and washed. And, at sandhya time, (evening), ten types of plants (dasapushpam), would be collected from the yard and worshipped. This should continue for seven days. On the first Friday (Muppettu Velliyazhcha), women and girls would put henna (mayilanchi) on hands and feet. Also, decorating the foreheads with 'Mukkutti chandu,' a bindi made with the juice of the mukkutti plant, was also important. Putting the dasapushpam in the hair after a bath using the 'vellilathali,' the local shampoo made with the thick juice of the plant, 'vellila' (a type of mussaenda) was also important. The leaves of Vellilam were also put on the hair. Even in my childhood, girls coming to school with a whole herbarium in the hair were common !
The whole custom must have been part of preparing for the dreary monsoon days of Karkidakam.

Also, about the Makara Jyothi. These days, it is a well-known fact that the Makara Jyothi is not a 'mysterious' light, but a big fire lit with by Police and Forest Department staff on the hillock opposite Sabarimala. One year, a group of rationalists managed to reach the hillock and lit up anthoer pyre ! And all the devotees enjoyed the site of two Jyothis, until the pictures were published in the newspapers the next day.
The fact is, a group of tribals used to light a big fire at that place from long time back, as part of some ritual of theirs, which appeared as a mysterious light for the onlookers from Sabarimala.
Anyhow, the authorities are still intent on lighting the Jyothi as it attracts lakhs of pilgims from other States, which translates into money.

Jennifer said...

Hi Ammupatti,
When you find time, stop by my Pongal page - Pakka Pongal Celebration in Tamil Nadu Village.

Ammupatti said...

Hi Jennifer

You had a pakka pongal. Congrats.