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Pongal is a four day long harvest festival originating from Tamil Nadu (Southern State of India) celebrated by farmers who give thanks to 'Surya', the Sun God and giver of life, for the blessings of a rich harvest. Pongal is one of the most important Hindu festivals and is celebrated all over the world by Hindus as a thanksgiving to nature as well.
Pongal in Singapore is celebrated by many Hindus during the month of “Thai” which is between January to February, during the season when rice, sugarcane and turmeric is harvested. You may see some of these items on the day of Pongal being used as offering to god, decoration and added to the special dishes made for the day.
On the first day, 'Bhogi Pongal', celebrations begin with worship of Lord Indra, the Ruler of Clouds and Giver of Rains. Thorough spring-cleaning as well as the discarding of old belongings is carried out to signify a fresh start. Oil lamps are lit, new clothes are donned and colourful designs in rice flour are created on the floors of houses.
On the second day, 'Surya Pongal', the Sun God is honoured. Every household cooks a pot of rice with milk to offer up to Surya at dawn.
The third day, called 'Mattu Pongal', is set aside to honour cattle and signify their contribution such has plouging the fields and providing milk. Cows are sacred animals in the Hindu religion.
In India and even in some Singaporean dairy farms, the cows are decorated with Multi-coloured beads, tinkling bells, Flower garlands are placed around their necks and they are fed special snacks as a treat.
The last day, called 'Kannum Pongal', is all about the community and strengthening ties. Younger members seek the blessing of the older members of their families.
The term ‘pongu’, meaning ‘to boil over’ or ‘flourish’ in Tamil is what gives the festival its name. That’s why you’ll see the important tradition of filling a new clay pot with milk and fresh rice, then adding ginger, turmeric, brown sugar, cashew nuts, raisins and ghee as it cooks. When it is brought to a boil and froths over, family members cry out "pongollo pongal", which means "may this rice boil over" in Tamil, signifying a wish for overflowing fortunes.