Pongal is a harvest festival-the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving. In an agriculture based civilization, the harvest plays an important part. The farmer cultivating his land depends on cattle, timely rain and the Sun. Once a year, he expresses his gratitude to these during the harvest festival. With the end of the est month of Margazhi (mid December to mid January) the new Tamil month of Thai heralds a series of festivals. The first day of the month is a festival day known as "Pongal Day". Pongal means the 'boiling over" of milk and rice during the month of Thai.
The act of boiling over of milk in the clay pot is considered to denote future prosperity for the family. Traditionally celebrated at harvest time, it is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the harvest by thanking the rain, sun and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest. Pongal is celebrated by the Indian state of Tamil Ndu as well as Tamils worldwide, including those in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauitius, South Africa, USA, Canada and Singapore. The festival is at least 1000 years old although some believe that the festival is more that 2000 years old. It used to be celebrated as Puthiyeedu during Medieval Chola empire days. It is thought the Puthiyeedu meant the first harvest of the year. People of all religions celebrate the Pongal festival.
Tamils refer to Pongal as "Tamizhar Thirunal" (meaning "the festival of Tamils"). This festival originated in Tamil Nadu. The saying "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum" meaning "the birth of the month of Thai will have the way for new opportunities", often is quoted regarding the Pongal festival.
Usually, the festival takes place January 12th to the 15th (on the Gregorian calandar). The festival is celebrated 4 days from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi (December-January) to the third day of Thai (January-February). The first day, Bhogi, is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials, by setting them on fire, marking the end of the old Thai and the emergence of the new Thai.
The astronomical significance of the festival is that it marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the sun's movement northward for a six month period. Markar Sankranthi refers to the event of the sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn). While Pongal is predominantly a Tamil festival, similar festivals are also celebrated in several other Indian states under different names. In Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka, the harvest festival Sankranthi is celebrated. In northern India, it is called Makara Sankranti. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, it is celebrated on the date of the annual kite flying day, Uttarayah. It also coincides with the bonfire and harvest festval in Punjab and Haryana, known as Lohri. Similar harvest festivals in the same time frame are also celebrated by farmers in Burma, Cambodia, and Korea.