Fire and water: the Pongal primer

Pongal, the harvest festival, is the very first Hindu event on the annual Gregorian calendar. It is often marked with low-key celebrations at Indian homes where families often boil a pot of milk to celebrate the birth of the ‘Thai’ month in the Tamil calendar.

One element of Pongal that often gets overlooked is Boghi.

Celebrated almost subconsciously by a majority of Hindus, Boghi falls on the day preceding Pongal.

Waking up in the wee hours of morning, around 5 am, Indian households usually set a bonfire at the compounds of their houses and begin burning unwanted items.

These items, the fuel for this bonfire, is how Indian households declutter their physical living space to match their clear thinking.

By the dawn of the new day, all that remains of the old are ashes.

Contrary to popular belief, Boghi is not practised in order to say goodbye to the Margazhi month and welcome the new month, it actually signifies and symbolises the letting go of the old habits.

This belief is partly because of the fact that on the same day Tamils celebrate Pongal, Telugus, another major South Indian ethnic group, celebrate Ugadhi, which marks the new year on the Telugu calendar.

Thus, in order to embrace the New Year, or quite simply the new beginning, the Telegus set on fire, along with materialistic items, their bad old habits.

In short, both Pongal and Ugadhi are a symbolic way of making a New Year resolution.

Pongal is often celebrated as a one-off festival in Malaysia, although, in fact, the harvest festival runs for three days in India, especially in the native villages where harvesting (farming) remains a major way of life.

The first day, Thai Pongal, celebrates the arrival of the ‘Thai’ month in the Tamil calendar. Maatu Pongal (cow pongal) takes place the very next day, where villagers often decorate cows and pray for abundance.

Cows are regarded as sacred in Hindu communities, where farmers, landowners, and even urban settlers often own a cow as a sign of blessing.

Pongal then ends with a much more joyous Kanni Pongal (known as the Virgin Pongal). Single, unmarried women across India celebrate this Pongal day by praying for a prosperous, married life.

To top it all, single women often prepare a tumeric liquid mixture to pour on unsuspecting men of their choice.

Pongal starts with burning past demons and ends pretty much with splashing water on your loved one.

May this festival transform negative habits to good, and create more love stories.

Komunitikini warmly wishes you a very happy Pongal!