What is Thai Pongal?


Thai Pongal is a four day festival celebrated in the state of Tamil Nadu, in India. It is a Hindu festival where the farmers thank the Sun for a bountiful harvest. Historically Tamil Nadu was an agrarian state. As a result, Thai Pongal is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the people of Tamil Nadu. Pongal is celebrated from the 13th of January to the 16th, except during the leap year (when it is celebrated from the 14th to the 17th).

Bhogi Pongal

The first day of the Pongal, Bhogi pongal falls on the last day of the month Marghazhi in the Tamil Calendar. Bhogi is celebrated to thank Indra, the Hindu God of rain. It is the tradition to clean and whitewash homes before Bhogi.


In the early celebrations, dry twigs and leaves were burned. Of late this has transformed into a habit of burning rubbish from homes. Air pollution from the smoke is a serious concern for health and commercial reasons, and there are several public awareness measures to fight this. Until this day, Bhogi Pongal is the big food fest. Seasonally harvested vegetables are used to cook elaborate meals. Sambaar made with yellow pumpkin is a must on the Bhogi menu.

Surya Pongal

The second day is Surya Pongal, a day of thanksgiving to the Sun. It is the first day of the month Thai in the Tamil Calendar.

It is the tradition to cook freshly harvested rice in milk along with jaggery. Some families cook pongal before sunrise. Others wait until after sunrise and prepare Pongal at an auspicious time. Even now many families cook pongal outside the house in an open space. They gather around the fire and greet “Pongalo Pongal” as the milk boils and spills over, wishing for an abundance and happiness to boil over in their lives.


Fresh Ginger


Fresh Turmeric


Pongalo pongal


Pongal panai or the pot in which pongal is made is very special. Some families prefer to use mud pots while others use bronze or vengalam panai. The mud pots are decorated beautifully in bright colours. Fresh turmeric and ginger stalks are tied around the neck of the pongal panai. It is easy to pick up the panai with the stalks (in place of tongs) after the pongal is cooked.

Sweet Pongal and ulundhavada (vada made with green gram) are a must on the Pongal menu. In the olden days, rice was harvested just before Pongal. The first use for newly harvested rice was to cook Pongal. After that, the rice was aged before being sold in the market. Nowadays rice varieties which can be harvested within 2-3 months are also grown. But the tradition of cooking sweet Pongal (sarkarai Pongal) with freshly harvested rice persists.


Sugarcane is another traditional crop of Tamil Nadu. Sugarcane stalks are placed along with the sweet pongal during the prayers. Later, the stalks are peeled and cut for all to chew.

Maattu Pongal

The third day of the Pongal festival is celebrated as Mattu Pongal and honours the cow. For many families, Mattu Pongal is the most important festival. All the cows, bulls and calves are washed on Mattu Pongal. Traditionally the horns were painted before Mattu Pongal. In many villages cows and bulls are taken out for a walk, and people stop to give thanks to the animals.

Jallikattu is a traditional event held on Mattu Pongal. A bag of money is tied to the horn, and the bull is let to run free. Young men try to catch the bull and take the bag. Taming the bull is seen as a mark of bravery and courage.

Jallikattu has both supporter and detractors. After several years of protests by animal rights groups and a case by the Animal Welfare Board of India The Supreme Court of India banned Jallikattu in 2014.

For more details on the event and the ban, please visit:
Jallikattu – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kaanum Pongal

Kaanum means ‘to see’ or ‘to visit’ in Tamil. Kaanum Pongal, the last day of the festivities, is the day to visit relatives and friends. Families offer prayers to the Sun. Elders give gifts (usually money) to their family members. The folk dance ‘Kummi’ (a dance where a group of women clap and move to a rhythm) is very popular. In big cities, people visit parks and beaches with their families.


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