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Earth Day, Indian Style

The harvest festival of Ponggal may have begun as a farmers’ festival that originated in South India thousands of years ago, as a means of giving thanks for the bounties of the earth, but its core message of offering gratitude for all good things in life makes Ponggal relevant for the entire gamut of Tamil population today. While Ponggal typically isn’t celebrated in all its glory in the city, in rural areas and farms, Ponggal proper is a joyous four-day event that is embraced as a harbinger of hope and prosperity.

The first day, Bhogi, is celebrated on the last day of the Tamil month of Margazhi. On this day, homes are cleaned and decorated. It’s a case of “out with the old and in with the new”, with purchasing of new clothes and household items, and the burning of old and unusable things. Bhogi also honours Lord Indra, the God of clouds and rain, worshipped for the abundance of harvest.

The second day is the most important. It marks the first day of the auspicious month of Thai and is therefore called Thai Ponggal; the Ponggal dish is cooked exactly at the moment when the new month is born. This Ponggal day is also called Surya Ponggal as Surya, the Sun God, is honoured on this day for a bountiful harvest.

The third day is Maattu Ponggal, dedicated to the cattle that help farmers in a myriad ways. On this day, the cows and bulls are bathed and decorated with vermillion and garlands. Prayers are offered to them and they are given a well-deserved day of rest for their invaluable service.

The fourth day is called Kaanum Ponggal. With “Kaanum” meaning “to see”, this is a day of socializing, where family member – young and old – get together to share their joy and harvests. It’s also called Kanni Ponggal, after a practice in the old days when the young women of the village would come out dressed in their festive finery and have an opportunity to meet the village’s eligible young men.

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