Pongal also known as Makar Sankranti, Lohri is a thanks-giving festival celebrated throughout India. The word ‘Pongal Is derived from Tamil literature and its literal meaning is ‘to boil’. It is a four-day harvest festival that usually commences on the 14th day of January every year and the only festival to follow the solar calendar. Pongal marks the initiation of the sun's movement towards the North for a six-month period as it is considered very auspicious as opposed to the Southern movement of the sun. It signifies the event when the sun enters the zodiac sign Capricorn (Makar) and thus the name Makar Sankranti.
Significance of the days of the festival:
The Pongal festival begins on the day called Bhogi Pongal. On this, day people discard old belongings and celebrate new possessions. People assemble and light a bonfire in order to burn the heaps of discards. Houses are cleaned, painted, and decorated to give a festive look. The horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in villages. New clothes are worn to mark the start of the festival.
Surya Pongal is the second and main festive day and is dedicated to the Hindu god Surya. The day is celebrated with family and friends, with the Pongal dish prepared in a traditional earthen pot in an open space in the view of the sun.
Mattu refers to "cow, bullock, cattle", and Tamil Hindus regard cattle as sources of wealth for providing dairy products, fertilizer, transportation, and agricultural aid. On Mattu Pongal, cattle are decorated – sometimes with flower garlands or painted horns, they are offered a special meal and worshipped
Kanum Pongal, the fourth day of the festival, marks the end of Pongal festivities for the year. The word kanum (kaanum) means, "To visit." Many families hold reunions on this day. Communities organize social events to strengthen mutual bonds.
Health Benefits of the food consumed during Pongal
Pongal falls during the mid-winter season, a time where viral and bacterial infections are prevalent. Food prepared during this festival was designed according to the climatic conditions and helps to keep the body warm, gives energy, and keeps the viral and bacterial infections at bay.
The concept of cooking Pongal in the presence of sunlight is to get vitamin D. Rice and Moong dal are the primary components of Pongal, which are a good balance of proteins and carbohydrates. Turmeric used in Pongal is also Anti-Viral. Ghee gives a good aroma and taste at the same time helps us get fat-soluble vitamins. Ghee also helps moisturize dry skin and hair during winter. Sugarcane is also consumed during Pongal, which is high in electrolyte, calcium, iron, excellent for liver detox; helps boost the immune system, fight infection, and cures a cold and cough during winter. Chakkara or Sakkarai Pongal is a sweet dish made of rice, moog lentils, and jaggery. Jaggery is loaded with antioxidants and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, selenium, which helps prevent free radicals. Jaggery dilates the blood vessels and improves blood flow thus creating warmth in the respiratory tract during winter.