Pongal & rice: More than food connect

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Pongal or huggi is a dish that needs no introduction to most. But if you are one of the few who haven't heard about or are thinking about the Pongal festival now, this blog will give you a clearer picture.

About the festival

The first Pongal is the festival which is also referred to as Thai Pongal. In the southern part of the country, it is celebrated as a multi-day Harvest festival observed by the Tamil community. According to Tamil solar calendar, the festival commences in the month Tai, and this is typically about January 14.

There are different rituals for each day.

Day one: The day is reserved for prayers to the rain god. People also light a bonfire in the evening and offer items into it — and singing & dancing around it is expected.

Day two: Prayers are offered to the sun god, dressed in traditional attire. Rice is boiled in an earthen pot.

Day three: The cow is worshipped, and people tie garlands and bells around the cattle's neck and seek their blessings.

Day four: On the last day of Pongal home rituals are essentially performed by the women. The turmeric leaf is washed and placed on the ground and on it, rice and other food items are placed. Post this, an aarti is performed by the women of the house. They use turmeric water to pray for their brothers and husband for their prosperity.

Pongal — the dish

Now is the dish Pongal, a South Indian rice dish which also means "bubbling up". Pongal is a dish of rice mixed with boiled milk and sugar in Telegu and Kannada. Then there is Huggi which is derived from the Old Kannada word Puggi.

There are two main variations of Pongal:

Chakarai Pongal — Sweet, and Venn Pongal made from clarified butter. This is made in the state of Tamil Nadu and during Sankranthi festival in Andhra Pradesh.

Ingredients mainly comprise of rice, coconut, and mung bean.

Venn: Refers to spicy Venn Pongal and is a portion of typical breakfast food. Venn is the Tamil word for white. It is a savoury form of rice consumed in Tamil, Sri Lankan and other South Indian homes — and is mostly a special breakfast speciality. One can have it with sambar and coconut chutney.

Melagu: This is a Tamil word for pepper and this variation of Pongal is spicy — made with pepper, rice, and moong daal.

Puli Pongal: Puli is the Tamil word for Tamarind, and this variation of Pongal is made with boiled rice. This variation is not made during the Pongal festival and is mostly eaten for dinner.

During the festivities, Chakarai Pongal is made. But in either case, both variations are made from rice. The connection India has with rice goes back to the Vedas. So it is no surprise that our festivities revolve around this stall food too.

History of rice & Pongal

Historical evidence shows that in 10,000 BC, the Indus Valley civilisation began farming rice in the step fields near Kashmir. In southern India, someone 'accidentally' boiled rice and Moong dal together resulting in Pongal. It turned out to be very popular. Around 200 BC, it eventually led to festivities, and the 'Indravizhya' festival celebrated at Poombuhar came to be called 'Pongal'.

Preparation of the Pongal

Tamilians prepare a special sweet dish on the day of this festival. Traditionally, Pongal is made by boiling rice and lentils and then sweetening them. All family members savour this dish after offering it to the god.

While the festivities of Pongal may last for four days, the dish is smacked away! Different rituals are celebrated on each day, and though one makes Pongal only on the first day, it is so delicious that most families keep making it again and again!

So you can see that while Pongal needs no reason to be savoured — there's something about eating the Chakarai Pongal during the festivals that adds to the charm of the celebrations.