Experience the end of the winter solstice in Tamil Nadu at Pongal festival

The Hindu harvest festival of Pongal is a major tradition marking the Tamil Nadu calendar, celebrating the start of the sun’s six-month journey northwards, when the sun enters to zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makara). It honours the sun god Surya and is celebrated throughout India in various forms.

This winter, if you are travelling to India, experiencing Pongal is a great way to immerse yourself in the festivals of Tamil Nadu and add a new dimension to your visit to this region.

What’s on?

The festival takes place around January and will be on the 15th January. There are four days, beginning with Bhogi Pongal – the last day of the Tamil month Marghazi.

For this first day, people get rid of old belongings and celebrate the new – you can visit the bonfires in every town and village where old things are burnt, and admire the newly cleaned and redecorated houses. Villagers usually paint the horns of their oxen and buffaloes too. All is festive and colourful, and everyone worships the god Indra – the god of rain, from whom everyone hopes to receive plentiful rain in the following year.

The next day – Surya Pongal – is the main day of the festival, dedicated to the sun god. This day also coincides with the winter harvest festival, so it carries additional significance. Family and friends get together to celebrate, traditionally around a meal cooked in an earthen pot under sunlight, and decorated with a turmeric plant or garland of flowers. This is called the Pongal dish, made with boiling milk, rice grains and cane sugar jaggery. If the rice boils over, this symbolizes good luck and fortune.

You will also notice, on Surya Pongal, people singing traditional songs while the dish is cooking, and then offering it first to the gods and goddesses, to the village cows, and finally to everyone around the fire. You’ll also see more exciting decorations with banana and mango leaves and drawings using rice flour.

On the third day, for Mattu Pongal, you can admire the decorated cattle as it’s their turn to be celebrated wearing flowers, painted horns, turmeric water and oil. Cows are offered bananas and a special meal and people gather in temples and pray. You can also attend a cattle race, the Jallikkattu!

Finally, Kanya Pongal (Kaanum Pongal) is the fourth and final day of the festivities, and it’s the day families get together but also many community social events are organised around Tamil Nadu. Women place turmeric leaves outside their homes and feed the leftover Pongal dish to the birds, particularly crows, while praying for the well-being of their brothers. In turn, brothers pay tribute to their married sisters by giving them gifts.

Where to go?

Whether you’re in a village or a big city, some form of the festival celebrations will be obvious and you can take part in the joyous displays outside people’s houses and on the streets. Temples will be open and especially decorated, and your visits will be enhanced by the good humour and special feelings of the holiday.

During your tour in Tamil Nadu, see if you can organize a homestay and experience the holidays with a family, so you can take part in cooking and enjoying the Pongal dish together!

Practical information

The best way to experience the Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu is as part of an itinerary worked out with a professional travel agent. By organizing everything through an agency, you will ensure that all your travel logistics are taken care of while you visit across the region. Ensure you will be hitting the best sights, enjoy relaxing nights in lovely hotels, and experience the food, the culture and the spiritual life of Tamil Nadu. Your travel agent will be able to put together the best itinerary around the Pongal festival and recommend the best places to go to fully experience this most special of festivals in Tamil Nadu!