13 Photos that Show How Pongal is Celebrated in Tamil Nadu

The State's Most Popular Festival

Making Pongal kolam.



Pongal is the most popular festival of the year in Tamil Nadu, as much of the state relies on agriculture and the sun is necessary for good growth. See pictures of how the festival is celebrated in this Pongal photo gallery.

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What is Pongal?

Pongal festival

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Pongal is a.four-day harvest and thanksgiving festival in Tamil Nadu and the name of a dish made from rice. The name means "boiling over" or "spilling over", signifying abundance and prosperity. The festival takes place in mid-January each year and corresponds with Makar Sankranti, which marks the first day of the sun's return journey to the northern hemisphere. Although a January harvest isn't common in the western world, India's hot and monsoonal climate provides two growing seasons.

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Making the Pongal Kolam

Pongal kolam.

Sudhamshu Hebbar/Getty Images


On the first day of the Pongal festival, homes are cleaned, and a kolam is drawn on the floor using plain and colored rice flour. It's not only pretty and welcoming. It also defines the sacred area where the Pongal dish is prepared.

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The Pongal Dish

Pongal dish.

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The Pongal dish is cooked on the second and most important day of the Pongal festival, and people gather to feast. It's made out of rice that's boiled with milk and jaggery (unrefined sugar) in an earthen or steel pot. Raisins and cashews can also be added. It's known as sweet pongal or chakkara pongal.

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Decorating the Pongal Pot

Decorating pongal pot with turmeric.
www.flickr.com user Kara Newhouse.

Prior to cooking, the Pongal pot is decorated with turmeric root, which is cut and tied together around its edge.

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Selling Turmeric for the Pongal Festival

Turmeric seller in India.
Malcolm P Chapman/Getty Images

Turmeric signifies auspiciousness and general well-being. Vendors can be seen in Tamil Nadu selling turmeric especially for the festival.

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Selling Sugar Cane for the Pongal Festival

Vendors selling sugar cane in Chennai.

ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images


Street vendors also sell sugar cane, which is made as an offering to Surya the Sun God during the Pongal festival. It's the harvest from a predominant crop in Tamil Nadu.

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Preparing the Pongal Pot

Preparing the Pongal pot.
www.flickr.com user Kara Newhouse.

Within the area of the kolam, a fire is made to cook the Pongal dish. The pot is set up in direct view of the sun.

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Women Cooking Pongal

Women cooking pongal in a group.

Dinodia Photo/Getty Images


In villages, the Pongal dish is sometimes cooked out in the open ground in a group.

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Pongalo Pongal

Pongal cooking pots.

Uday Kumar/Getty Images


The highlight of cooking the Pongal dish is when the milk boils over. This "overflow" signifies abundance, which is the meaning of the Pongal festival. People shout, "pongalo pongal".

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Pongal Offering

www.flickr.com user Kara Newhouse.

Once the Pongal dish has been prepared, it's offered to the Sun God. After prayer, the dish is shared with family and friends.

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Mattu Pongal

Mattu Pongal, Worshipping the Cows
Paddy Photography/Getty Images

Cows and bulls take the limelight on the third day of the Pongal festival, called Mattu Pongal. This day is dedicated to decorating and worshiping farm animals that are used to perform work in the fields. It's common to see them in the street, painted different colors and adorned with balloons. The atmosphere on Mattu Pongal is upbeat and carnival-like. Head to the Big Temple in Thanjavur to see cows lined up by their owners for blessings.

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Jallikattu: A Traditional Pongal Sport

Men Risk Their Lives During Jallikattu
Ami Vitale / Contributor/Getty Images

Jallikattu is a traditional bull-taming sport that's usually a part of celebrations on Mattu Pongal day. It involves a bull being released into a crowd of people, who attempt to grab the hump on the bull's back and hold onto it as long as possible. However, Jallikattu has caused controversy in recent years, due to protests against animal cruelty.

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Poikkal Kuthirai Folk Dance

Indian students perform a 'Poikal kudhirai' folk dance during celebrations for Pongal

ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images


Poikkal Kuthirai is a traditional theatrical dance form from Tamil Nadu that's commonly performed as entertainment during festivals such as Pongal and other special occasions. Known as the "false-legged horse dance", artists do acrobatics while inside decorated cardboard horses. The dance is thought to have been introduced by Maratha kings in Thanjavur.

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