• Tamil Montessori

Montessori & Tamil Culture - Pongal Celebrations

Right after New Year, we begin our preparation for the next round of festivities; it’s time to celebrate Pongal. Pongal is a 4-day harvest festival celebrated across South India and typically falls on Jan 14th. In this post, I’ll be sharing about our celebrations and the significance of each day's celebrations.


Bhogi Pongal

Bhogi Pongal is the first day of the Pongal celebrations where people declutter their homes, discard old clothes and any derelict articles in the household. A bonfire is lit to burn these items. This festival symbolizes getting rid off old and negative things and beginning anew.


I believe that a clutter-free mind and a clutter-free environment are key to being a prepared adult. In fact, I feel that they both are so strongly interconnected. Discarding physical and mental clutter sparks joy inside and out.


Starting off this Bhogi by decluttering my mind, body and soul and welcoming this festival of change with renewed faith and hopes, positive thoughts and energy.


Surya Pongal - Thanking the sun

The second day of Pongal is called Thai Pongal or Surya Pongal and is the main festive day. It is a celebration to thank the Sun for providing a bountiful harvest. This day also marks the beginning of the sun’s northward journey. I believe that festivals like Pongal are strongly aligned to “care of the environment” to help us connect, engage and appreciate the gifts of nature.


Traditional celebration:

Back in India we cook the traditional sweet dish called “Pongal” outside our home on a brass pot / earthenware pot over a firewood burning stove. Typically, we prepare the dish around sunrise time and face the sun while we cook it. As the dish gets cooked, we let the milk, one of the ingredients to make Pongal, to boil and spill over the cookware to symbolize abundance of prosperity. In fact, the word “Pongal” means to spill over. After we cook Pongal, we offer it to the Sun along with sugarcane, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables during the auspicious time and pray for a prosperous year.


Current celebration:

Firewood stove is replaced by gas stove, traditional cookware replaced by pressure cooker and we were certainly not cooking outdoors! More importantly, we were lucky to see the sun today. ☀️


LO celebrated her first Pongal by offering her little basket of fruits (all washed) during our prayer which she absolutely enjoyed exploring with her hands and mouth. Yes, she also walked a few steps holding the basket in her hands. 😊 We labeled the fruits and the colors in Tamil as we offered during our prayers. We then thanked the Sun for the food on our plates. Even though, we cannot mimic the traditions the same way right now, we try to incorporate as much cultural elements as we can to experience the spirit and fervor of the celebrations.


Maatu Pongal - Thanking the cattle and livestock

Maatu Pongal is the third day of Pongal celebrations and is dedicated to thanking the bulls and cows for playing an indispensable part of the harvest season and other aspects of domestic life. Care of the environment has been an integral part of Tamil culture. On this day, farmers decorate the cattle with flower garlands, tinkling bells and paint their horns too.


I have vivid memories from my early childhood of growing up with cows in my paternal grandparents’ place. And my mom used to say that as a toddler, I would eat only if the cows ate; I certainly share an emotional bond with cows till date. It was a hard decision for my grandparents to give away the cows since it was getting harder for them to maintain. Even after the cows were gone, we continued to celebrate Maatu Pongal with great enthusiasm at my grandparents’ place every year as a token of gratitude to the cattle and worship these gentle animals.


Whether we raise a cow or not, we revere the cow as a caregiver and a mother. And we’ve been celebrating Maatu Pongal with LO with this simple and beautiful Tamil children’s poem about a cow and her calf. Here's the tune of the poem.


Kaanum Pongal - Thanking the family


Kaanum Pongal is the fourth and final day of Pongal festivities and is celebrated to express gratitude to family. People visit relatives and seek blessings from elders. “Kaanum” in Tamil means to visit or see. On this day, people may also go on mini picnics with family and relatives.


My Kaanum Pongal celebrations in India typically meant visiting my grandparents in the morning, having a sumptuous lunch at their place and then going to the beach with family and cousins in the evening. It’s a great time for us to relax and unwind after the festivities.


At the moment, we neither have family around nor can we visit our friends nearby. But we’ve been celebrating Kaanum Pongal in our own little way. LO and I have been enjoying reading this beautiful children’s Tamil book by Vaaranam Books called “Paati veedu” which describes what happens during the visit to grandma’s house from having grandma’s yummy food to chit-chatting with aunts and playing with cousins. The storyline and illustrations so resonated with my Kaanum Pongal celebrations as a kid.


How did you celebrate Pongal as a kid and how are you celebrating now? I'm eager to read your comments. Join the conversation on Instagram for Bhogi, Surya Pongal, Maatu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal. :)

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