This article tells us of the history and origin of the Pongal festival.

History of Pongal

Every Indian festival has lot of legends attached to it and Pongal is no different. Originated as a Dravidian festival, details of Pongal being celebrated are inscribed in temple in Tiruvallur and in Andal's 'Tiruppavai' and Manickavachakar's 'Tiruvembava'. Dated back to the Sangam Era in 200 B.C to 300 B.C, there is a mention of the 'Thai Un' and 'Thai Niradal' which was believed to have been celebrated during the Sangam Age. During this era, unmarried girls used to observe fast for the prosperity of the country, defer from using milk and milk products and refrain from using bad words. Pongal was also celebrated by Aryans who later migrated to India. Plenty of legends are associated with Pongal with the prominent ones being of Lord Krishna who sheltered the people and the cattle under Mount Govardhan to escape the non-stop rain send by Lord Indra and Of Lord Shiva and Nandi. Read on to know more about the history and origin of Pongal.

Sangam Era
Pongal was said to be a festival which was celebrated in cold weather when people prayed for the warmth of the sun. Later Aryans celebrated it who continued the worship even after migrating to India. History also dates the Pongal celebrations back to Sangam Era. It is said maidens of the Sangam Era observed 'Pavai Nonbu' during 'Thai Niradal' which was also a major festival during the rule of Pallavas (4th to 8th century A.D). However, the festival was celebrated during the month of 'Margazhi' (December - January). During the festival, it was customary for young girls to pray for the prosperity of the country. All through the month, they deferred from using milk or milk products, oiling the hair and refrained from using harsh words. Waking up early in the morning, they offered prayers to goddess karthyayani which is carved out of wet sand. This, they believed would bring adequate rainfall to the paddy and thus prosperity to the country.

Pongal During Cholas
As per the inscription found in the Veeraraghava temple at Tiruvallur, Chola King Kiluttunga gifted lands for the temple as a part of the Pongal celebrations. Epigraphic evidences explain the celebration of 'Puthiyeedu' (first harvest festival of the year) during the medieval Chola Empire. As per Andal's 'Tiruppavai' (a verse in praise of Lord Vishnu) and Manickavachakar's 'Tiruvembava', people observed the festival 'Thai Niradal' and observed 'Pavai Nonbu'.

There are plenty of legends associated Pongal though the prominent being the story of Lord Shiva and his Nandi and Govardhan Parbat. It is said that in earlier days, people used to worship Lord Indra which made him arrogant and consider himself as one of the most powerful of all the gods. When Lord Krishna realized it, he thought of teaching him a lesson. As a first step, he started worshipping Mount Govardhan instead of Lord Indra. Lord Indra who grew furious over this decided to produce a non-stop thunder, lightning, flood and heavy rains. However, Lord Krishna who was determined to protect the people, cattle and cowherd, lifted the Mount Govardhan using his little finger and stayed as it is for three days till the rains stopped. Lord Indra realizing his mistake, asked Krishna forgiveness. Since then, Lord Krishna allowed the people to pray to Lord Indra as part of the Bhogi celebrations. In another legend which goes this way - Lord Shiva send his bull, Nandi to the earth to tell people to take oil bath on a daily basis and eat once in a month. However, Nandi got confused and instead asked the people to eat daily and have oil bath once in a month. Lord Shiva, when he came to know about it got enraged and dictated Nandi to stay on earth to help people to plough the fields and harvest for more food. Thus Pongal became a harvest festival.

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