Pongal festival and its meaning

The pongal/sankaranti festival is around and the following post is an attempt to analyze the different aspects of it. What i have written below is merely a part of the whole concept, only that much i was able to understand. Correct me if i have erred and comments/criticisms are most welcome.

Astronomical meaning:

The rotation of earth around its own axis and the revolution of earth around the sun is the basis of the occurrence of day/night and the various seasons respectively. The earth is tilted 23 1/2 degrees to the vertical, which leaves only one hemisphere facing the sun at a given time. The hemisphere that faces the sun has summer season and the other has winter season. After six months, the vice versa happens. This is astronomically referred as due to the apparent movement of sun. The sun moves south to north and north to south between the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, though in reality it is the earth’s tilt that is responsible for the position of sun.

As the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, it has summer in the months of November and December and we have winter because of the northern hemisphere being titled away from the sun. As sun gradually starts its journey back towards the north, seasons are poised for a change. The day on which the sun enters the territory of India coincides with Pongal’s eve. When the first rays of the sun, which is now directly positioned above the Indian mainland, hits, it is seen as a reason to celebrate. In short, it signifies the change of seasons brought by this event (end of the winter season) and ultimately recognising SUN as the main and only source of energy to the earth.

Traditional practices:

The first day “bogi” is to get rid of the old articles in the house. The second day is celebrated as “pongal”, which is paying respect to the ultimate source of energy, the sun and it is celebrated by offering the first produce from agriculture to the sun god. The third day “maatu pongal” or the day in which the cattle which assist man in agriculture is paid due respect and honoured. The fourth day “kaanum pongal” is directed towards strengthening human relations and seen as an opportunity to forget the earlier animosities between people and a day of reunion and joy.

Latent meanings:

Though it is seen as a harvest festival, it carries some deeper meanings that are very necessary for the existence of mankind. The underlying meanings teaches one to see sun as the ultimate source of energy, living harmoniously with nature, respecting animals and reaffirming human relations – the fundamental principles which define existence and continuance of society. As the sun proceeds further north into the Indian territory, different regions have festivals by different names to signify this event. Thus, as long as celebrating pongal is a part of our culture it enlightens one that nature is superior to man and human relations in a community needs to be harmonious so that not only the individual’s life is happy but also they leave a sustainable world for the future generations.

The forthcoming part about culture change and evolution is inspired by my fellow bloggers. No offence directed towards anybody nor I am anti west and their culture. I for one strongly believe that there is a lot to learn from the west too. This is a comparison and a few questions that have been lingering in my mind and I hope I do some amount of justice to it.

Change is the only permanent thing and culture is no exception to this fact. Cultures change and evolve over a period of time, based on the prevailing conditions. In olden days life style of people was a bit different from what we have today. The normal household contained articles that were perishable by nature. Also, almost none of these goods were mass-produced in industries and practically everything was a natural product. Therefore burning them on “bogi” did not lead to pollution. The present scenario is not the same. Already we are living in a polluted atmosphere and it is unwise to further worsen the situation. (On the contrary, there is a view that certain things, which when burnt, could actually reduce the pollution). This may be held as evolution of culture for the times have changed and so does our needs and requirements. Just because of the pollution factor one cannot write off “bogi” under the premise that it is furthering pollution. There is no other event that could remind one of the sun’s re-entry into our land and the importance of nature. The irony is that the cultural prescriptions meant to stress the importance of nature has in itself, in a way, is contributing to further deterioration of nature and this, I believe, is an outcome of the ignorance and lack of understanding of the actual rationale behind this event. A vulcanised rubber tyre or chlorine containing Polythene, things that are about 200 years old cannot undermine the importance of an astronomical event, which is eternal and is of utmost importance not only to the present generation but for times to come. (I don’t mean to justify the burning of such items or discount the service these inventions have brought to humanity but a changing culture must adapt itself to the existential reality without diluting the basic principles.)

The “kaanum pongal” i.e. the final of the 4 day festival is aimed at stressing the importance of human relations and communal living. The second longest beach in the world, the marina beach of Chennai, would be literally jam packed on that day. So do other places of gathering. Till date not a single untoward/immoral/indecent incident has been reported in spite of the fact it attracts such a massive public gathering and celebrations. Roughly about a fortnight before “kaanum pongal” comes an event called the New Year and not a single year passes without atleast one dark incident.

All the festivals and occasions that are prescribed in the Indian culture and tradition, cutting across the geographical extent of the country, has one thing in common i.e. recognizing the importance of nature and living life in a sustainable manner, which could be the greatest asset one can leave for the future generations.


Me said...

if applying logic might have remained a way of life of Indians, they might have tried to know further about the Ultimate source of light (which u expressed as sun)
But the problem with indians is, they became dogmatic and ritualistic which was wrong. Now Indians are developing and learning to be inquiring human again, for a longer part of time, Indian remained like brainless dummies shackled in the chains of culture and dogmas without inquiring who, what why how.

It is not about comparing west and east. It is about understanding our fault and checking it out for positive evolution. Evolution of Individuality, Knowledge, logic, reason and hence humanity.

suren said...

thanx !

as far as i understand, this quest for the inner light has been well crafted into the system and it has just been sidelined and the factors responsible for that are plenty.

the land of originators of yoga is, ironically, also the land with the max number of people with cardio vascular problems and diabetes.

hope your words about the developing indian is true and i guess i would also fall under the category :)

S Ramanathan said...

i knew some of tat...but some things i dint..! have been celeb pongal all my life and never knew these things.! good one!

Anand Raghunathan said...

Fabulous article! If only the article had answers to the long standing question that will remain unanswered for an eternity, it would have been a fitting finale.

How could we possibly educate the public with the knowledge that would not only withstand our cultural heritage, also which doesn't add more insult to the already injurious environment? I know it's practically next to the impossible thing if there was any.. Yet, I'm as desperate as a desperate mother wanting to hold her new born baby, to witness this change without sabotaging our cultural heritage!