Ennapadam Bhagavati

Bhagavathi at Ennapadam Temple at Kerala

Monday, January 17, 2011



Makar Sankranti is celebrated all over India, north, south, east and west. The manner of celebrations may differ, but the sanctity of the occasion is accepted by all the Hindus as the auspicious day on whicjh SURYA (SUN) moves into the Northern hemisphere. This day heralds the beginning of "Uttrayan", which is considered as the most auspicious time of the year. Makar Sankranti is celebrated differently in different parts of the country.


BHOGI PONGAL or Bogi festival is the first day of Pongal celebrated in Tamil Nadu. The similar festival is celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka with same name. Bhogi Pongal 2011 date is January 14, 2011. Bogi festival is dedicated to Lord Indra, the God of clouds and Rains. This is the reason why Bhogi Pongal is also called as Indran.
Pongal is an ancient festival of the people in South India particularly of the Tamils. The history of the festival can be traced back to the Sangam Age i.e. 200 BC to 300 AD.  Although, Pongal originated as a Dravidian harvest festival and has a specific mention in Sanskrit puranas, historians identify the festival with the ‘Thai Un’ and ‘Thai Neeradal’ which are believed to have been celebrated during the Sangam Age.

The annual Pongal festival in Tamilnadu, which lasts for four days, starts from today (14-1-2011).  Today (the first day) is called Bhogi Pandigai Day.  Tomorrow (15-1-2011) will be the day of Makara Sankaranthi.  The third day (16-1-2011) will be celebrated as Mattu Pongal Day and the fourth day (17-1-2011)will be celebrated as Kanum Pongal Day or Thiruvalluvar Day.

Right from the dawn of human history, it has been the timeless tradition in many cultures to offer thanks to the omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent Almighty God for a bountiful agricultural harvest year after year. The external forms and presentations might differ from culture to culture. But their underlying spirit, the spirit of setting aside a date every year to reflect on life’s blessings and the transcendental compassion of God towards all living creatures remains the same.

It is exciting to catch a glimpse of the spectra of colours and shades that mark the thanksgiving celebrations associated with the festival in different parts of the world. People celebrate this festival to offer their thanksgiving to God for protecting them and their crops every year.

Thus, the harvest festival of Pongal in Tamilnadu has to be viewed as an integral part of the timeless and universal tradition in different cultures in all parts of the world, more particularly in the context of today’s ever-expanding globalisation in which the whole world seems to have shrunk into a Global Village.   

The Pongal festival can be traced back to the SANGAM AGE. It is clear from Sangam literature that Observance of Pongal during the Sangam Era began with the sacred and auspicious Thai Neeradal (The Holy Bath in the Tamil Month of THAI).

The tradition of ‘THAI NEERADAL’ paved the way for today’s Pongal Festival. As part of the Thai festivities, we see that maidens of the Sangam Era observed ‘Pavai Nonbu’ at the time of Thai Neeradal. The Thai Neeradal was a major festival during the reign of the Pallavas (4th to 8th Century AD).

In Pallava and Chola times, this festival was observed during the Tamil month of Margazhi (December-January). During this festival young girls prayed for rain and prosperity of the country. Throughout the month, they avoid milk and milk products. They would not oil their hair and refrained from using harsh words while speaking. Women used to bathe early in the morning. They worshipped the idol of Goddess Katyayani, which would be carved out of wet sand. They ended their penance on the first day of the month of Thai (January-February). This penance was to bring abundant rains to enhance the production of paddy. These traditions and customs of ancient times, in course of time, gave rise to the Pongal celebrations of today.

Thus we see that Andal’s ‘Tiruppavai’ and Manickavachakar’s ‘Tiruvembavai’ vividly describe the festival of Thai Neeradal and the ritual of observing Pavai Nonbu. According to an inscription found in the Veeraraghava Temple at Tiruvallur, the Chola King Kulottunga regularly gifted lands to the temple, especially earmarked for the Pongal celebrations.

The PONGAL FESTIVAL lasts for four days.  Each of the four days of the festival is marked by different festivities.

On the First Day, Bhogi Pandigai is celebrated in honour of Lord Indra, ‘the God of Clouds and Rains’. Lord Indran is worshipped for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing in plenty and prosperity to the land. Thus, this day is also known as Indran.


On Bhogi Day (1ST DAY)people clean and wash their homes from top to bottom, and collect all unwanted goods for purpose of bonfire. Fresh harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in from the field as initial preparation for the following Second Day of ‘Surya Pongal’ or ‘Perumpongal’ or ‘Makara Sankaranthi’.


On this Surya Pongal Day(2nd Day), a special puja is performed before the cutting of the paddy. Farmers worship the sun and the earth by anointing their ploughs and sickles with sandalwood paste. It is with these consecrated tools that the newly-harvested rice is cut.


The third day of Pongal is called MATTU PONGAL( 3rd Day). It is meant for the worship of both cows and bulls.


The fourth day of the Pongal celebrations is called KAANUM PONGAL. This day is marked by time honoured village sports like JALLIKATTU. In few places in Tamilnadu, the fourth day is also known as Karinaal or Thiruvalluvar Day.  On this day also people offer colored balls of the Pongal on banana leaves to birds. Sisters pray for the well being of their brothers and offer pudi on banana leaves to sparrow and crows. On this day thousands of people in all cities, towns and villages travel to different places for ordinary mirth and pleasure, entertainment and relaxation and diversion from the cares and anxieties of daily existence.

What is known as Surya Pongal (the second day of the Pongal Festival) in Tamilnadu, is celebrated throughout the length and breadth of India as MAKARA SANKARANTHI. On this day The Sun enters the ‘Makara Raasi’ (the zodiac sign of Capricorn - the goat) on Sankranti Day, signifying the onset of Uttarayana Punyakaalam. From time immemorial, Uttarayana Punyakaalam has been considered as an auspicious time and that is why the veteran warrior Bhishma, Son of Ganga, chose to die during this period. It is believed that one escapes the cycle of repeated birth and death, if one gives up one’s body on this day.

In several parts of northern India like Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, the 13th of January every year, is celebrated as LOHRI.  Lohri Festival is celebrated with great pomp in North India. It is a festival to worship the Sun God. At this time Earth starts moving towards the sun marking the auspicious period of Uttarayana Punyakaalam.


Lohri is considered as very important for the newly wed and the new born babies as it marks fertility. On the night of Lohri Festival Day, people gather around the bonfire and throw gingelly oil seeds, puffed rice and popcorns into the flames of the bonfire. Prayers are offered to the bonfire, invoking the blessings of Lord Surya, for abundance and prosperity.


The celebration of Lohri Day marks the end of winter. According to a hoary tradition in Punjab and other parts of northern India, their forefathers formulated a Sacred Mantra for protecting themselves against the biting cold of winter season. This mantra invoked the Sun God to send them so much of heat that the winter cold would not affect them in any way.
The following song in Punjabi is sung by all the young boys, sitting around a Lohri fire, as an act of thanksgiving to Sun God. Here are a few lines from this popular song/mantra:

Sundri Mundri Hei! Hoi!

Tera Kaun Bechara! Hoi!
Dullah Bhatti wala! Hoi!
Dullah Di Dhi viyahi ! Hoi !


On Makar Sankranthi in Maharahtra, people celebrate by offering each other tilgul-laddus. These are made from sesame seeds, sugar and jaggery. People exchange these sweets with the words 'tilgul ghya, god god bola'. This means have these tilguls and speak sweet words.


What it actually means is accept these tilguls and forget any ill-feelings or differences by fostering good relations. In Maharashtra, married women are invited home for haldi-kumkum. The woman of the house gives them a gift of any new utensil which she has purchased.


In West Bengal, Sankranti is known as POUS PARBON - a harvest festival. Every year, a very big mela (fair) is held at Ganga Sagar which a large number of pilgrims from all over the country attend.


Makar Sankranti is celebrated in the last day of the Bengali month of Poush. In Bengal, this day is one of the most auspicious time of the year. Thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the country gather at Gangasagar, the point where the holy river Ganges meets the sea, to take a dip and wash away all the earthly sins. Makar Sankranti falls on the day of the year when the sun-considered the king of all grahas (planets)-is in the rashi (zodiac sign) known as Makar (Capricorn). This is considered the most beneficial and auspicious zodiac of the sun. The calculations for determining Makar Sankranti are done according to the solar calendar. Therefore, Makar Sankranti always falls on the 14th January according to the English calendar. It is usually the month of Magh of the Hindu calendar, the 'Tithi' or the position of the moon keeps shifting because of the difference in calculations.
Myth: According to certain Hindu beliefs, in the past ages, in the Satya Yug lived a king named Sagar. He performed a holy yagna, the Ashyamedh yagna. The symbol of his power, the horse, was lost during this ceremony and Sagar's 60,000 sons travelled far and wide to find it. They found the horse near the ashram of the great sage Kapil and blamed him for stealing their horse. The sage felt insulted and his rage turned the princes into ashes.  On hearing this, King Sagar went to the sage and begged for his mercy. The sage, at first turned a deaf ear to his pleas but later told that the princes would gain enlightenment if their ashes were washed by the holy waters of the heavenly river Ganga. For two generations, attempts were made to bring down the Ganges but all efforts proved futile. A prince of this dynasty, Bhagirath, pleased the gods, and with the help of Lord Shiva brought Ganga down to earth. His forefather's sins were washed away and the people had the opportunity to wash their sins as well. From then on, Gangasagar, near the ashram of the sage Kapil, has been a holy pilgrimage in Bengal. It is said that a dip in the ice-cold water at the junction of the river and the sea is auspicious.



In Uttar Pradesh, Sankranti is celebrated as Khichiri.

Every twelve years at this time the Kumbh Mela is held here at Prayag in Allahabad at Uttar Pradesh. Bathing on the day of Makar Sankranti in  the holy waters of Triveni is considered very auspicious. Millions of people take a dip in the holy waters on this day. A big one-month long ‘Magha-Mela’ fair begins at Prayag (Allahabad) on this occasion. Apart from Triveni, ritual bathing also takes place at many places like Haridvar and Garh Mukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna in Bihar.


Makar Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimala. The forty days of spiritual discipline undertaken by devotees of Ayappa comes to an end on this day with a big celebration at Sabarimala.

Sabarimala on Makara Sankranti


Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Sukarat or Sakarat.


The Assamese equivalent of Makar Sankranti and Pongal, Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu too is a harvest festival. Magh Bihu marks the end of the rice harvesting season, and is especially important in agrarian communities. For the occasion, a hut-like structure, called a meji ghar, is constructed with thatch and firewood. It’s erected in the shorn rice fields, and is ritually set aflame during the festivities. Community feasts are held near the meji ghar, and are accompanied by much merrymaking, including dance and music, bullfights and birdfights. The following song in Assamese is sung on this auspicious day.

The next day is the main Magh Bihu. In the very early morning, people take bath and burn the main 'Meji'. People gather around the 'Meji' and throw 'Pithas' (rice cakes) and betel nuts to the fire while burning it at the same time. They offer their prayers to the God of Fire and mark the end of the harvesting year. Next day is followed with community celebrations all across with rice cakes being distributed to all. People visit relatives and friends to convey and exchange Bihu greetings.

"…Bihu anondia, Bihu binondia

Bihur mou mitha mat
Bihur ba lagi bihua kokair
Deu dhoni lagise gat…"

(Bihu is full of joy, Bihu is beautiful, Bihu songs are very sweet, when the winds of Bihu flow. The dancing spirit possesses one's body).
Bihu is the most celebrated festival of Assam. It is a festival that transcends all religious and class barriers bringing people together in a free and uninhabited manner.

There is a lot of feasting and eating in this bihu celebration as the fields are full. On the eve of the bihu, called 'uruka', young men go to the field, preferably near a river, build a makeshift cottage called 'Bhelaghar' with the hay of the harvest fields and the 'Meji', the most important thing for the night. During the night, people prepare food and there is community feasting everywhere. The entire night (Uruka) is spent around the Meji with people singing bihu songs, beating 'Dhol', a typical kind of drums or playing games.


Gujarat celebrates 2,000 festivals every year! Among these, the festival of Uttarayan is one of the grandest. People of all ages fly kites from dawn to dusk. Crowded rooftops, fun-loving rivalry to outdo each other in kite flying skills and delicious traditional Gujarati feast is the chief hallmark of the day.


The International Kite Festival

Every year, on Uttarayan Day, an international kite festival takes place. Participants come from Japan, Australia, Malaysia, USA, Brazil, Canada and European Countries to participate in this Kite Festival.


To conclude in the words of Sri Aurobindo: ‘Ancient Bharata’ where does she begin? When did she end?....She is timeless.....Then take our festivals, Deepavali and Dussehra and Makara Sankranti. Are they simply a show of lights and burning heads? Or could it be that we celebrate the festival of eternal illumination, asking for light to dawn on our minds, in our hearts, letting its warm glow mix with our blood? Could it be that we are celebrating the victory of good over evil, defeat of the asuras by the devas! It was not a group of Hindus celebrating a holiday, which united them; it was a gathering of humans celebrating the birth of light, the birth of righteousness - that is wherein lay another kind of unity.’

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