Posted on: 17 January 2017

Life is a Pongal
By Akanksha Damini Joshi

#JallikattuLearnings #LifeIsAPongal

There are two words. One is Entertainment. Another, Celebration.
Both carry a different psychological orientation.

#Entertainment You are feeling empty inside. You don't like the way it gnaws. You go for entertainment. Somewhere outside. To a spectacle. To food, to an event. To television. To fill yourself up. Outside to inside.

You go there, it makes you forget things for a while. You come back, and BOOM! The emptiness returns bigger, louder, gnaw-i-er.


#Celebration is a flow of joy from inside to outside. You are full of energy, its bubbling over, and you want to share that energy. Sharing, multiplies that, its boils over. It overflows. #PONGAL

That is what Pongal means in Tamil. An OVERFLOW.


I have been reading, seeing, hearing Jallikattu being described as an "entertainment" event. This comes as a response to that.

Jallikattu is not an isolated entertainment event. No. It comes in a larger context. A part of a bigger package, that of a celebratory overflow, Pongal.


What is Pongal really? Celebration of what? Overflow of what?

Many of us do not know.

Pongal is an ancient agricultural and pastoral seasonal festival. A four day celebration with deeply intricate ecological, social and psychological teachings, of which Jallikattu is a part.

It is the end of the harvest season. And the beginning of the #TamilNewYear.


So, how do you welcome your new year?

Many of us do it on 31 Dec by partying till 12am and then saying "HappyNewYear"!

The Tamils do over four days in mid Jan, it by letting go of the old and by thanking all their relations, animals and humans alike.

The household, the village has done much work. You have sowed, you have reaped. Now you taste its fruits - you celebrate.


The first day of #BHOGI begins with an incredible practise, something which we all should be doing in our inner lives.

A big fire is created in the presence of the full family. In that are burnt all the old utensils. Symbolising, the end of the old. Only when the old goes, does the new arise.

After the bonfire there are sweets and special kind of foods prepared for a fest. On this day the cowherds go around beating drums.


On the next day, #MahaPongal. The Great Overflow.

From this day new utensils are brought into use. Only the new season’s rice can be used for preparing the pongal fest. Its the time to test, and taste!

Lord Ganesha has to be, of course, invited. How do you do that? You take Cow-Dung and you make a great big ball of it. That, simply, is Ganesha. Or, Pillaiyar.

Kolam, or rangoli, is made, traditionally decorated with cow-dung balls in many intersections.

Flowers are placed on top of the Pillaiyar and smaller balls of dung and an oblation of oil is poured over the Ganesha’s head. Then follows the worship.

At the muhurat, cow-dung cakes are placed in the hearth. A earthen pot of rice to be boiled in milk is put on it. The milk is supposed to boil over. ABUNDANCE! That over-flow is an omen for the fortunes of the family in the new year.

Another special meal, followed by best clothes in the evening for a celebration.


The third day - where Jallikattu comes in - is the day of the #MATTU Pongal. Or #Gopura.

Mattu in Tamil, means the BULL. This is a day dedicated to celebrating the cattle.

This day is a hoilday for cows and bulls. A time for gratitude, love, and play. They are taken to the ponds, bathed. They are specially adorned. Horns are painted and capped with special metal caps. Tinkling bells are placed, flower garlands, many colours of beads, and now, balloons! Yummy payasam is fed to them.

Processions of cows and bulls are taken to the local temples to seek blessings from Gods. To ensure their fertility, productivity, freedom from disease. The basis of the farmer's 'Happy' in the New year.

They are also special no-evil-eye rituals for the bulls!

The entire day is of delight with the cattle. Atmosphere is of celebration, of joy. Young men ride their bullocks, chase each other's carts. And, in the evening or afternoon, they challenge each other's courage to tame their bulls. "Go hug the hump of my bull".

A bull that has not been allowed to mate thus far. Full of wild, raw energy. And a man, with no weapons, nothing. If you can, hug his hump, even for 30 seconds, woah! The entire village celebrates this test of courage in its men.

On this day it is also customary to give presents of new cloths to the cows, bulls and cowherds. The cloths are folded up and laid on the necks of cattle.


The fourth day, is #Kaanum Pongal day it means "to visit".

It is the final day. You have let go of the old, you have welcomed the new, you have celebrated your animals, now you celebrate the human relationships.

Meeting people, deepening community bonds by celebrating with each other. Blessings are received from elders. New clothes are given to servants in the house.

Sisters perform a ritual praying for the well being of their brother's home. Brothers reciprocate, offering their married sisters gifts. Relatives and friends receive thanks for their supporting their lives in the year gone by, and inviting their friendship for the year thats come.


Bhogi | MahaPongal | Mattu | Kaanum, within this overflow of abundance, Jallikattu.

Notice the presence and the celebration of symbols around cattle through out the festival. Ganesha as cow dung. Kolam cow dungs. Cattle worship. And prayers for cattle fertility.

Agricultural life is based on that. The soil fertility depends on cattle. Tough, hardy cattle give farmers their strength, their harvest.


To comprehend the inherent nature of Jallikattu, we must understand our deep interdependence on cattle. And also the nature of celebration in our agricultural life.

For many of us exposed to life only in big urban centres, that understanding can only come when we find that degree of celebratory abundance, the overflow, the Pongal, within ourselves.

The sutras, for that, are encoded in the festivities. Letting go of the old, welcoming the new, being thankful and playful with nature, and with other humans.


#DiscoverThePongalWithin #HappyNewYear !

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Comments from Facebook

Such an important write up! So much the Indians need to know about other Indians.

Thank you for valuable post

That was well written. Thank you for explaining about the whole four days. Obviously the bull owners do not want their livestock injured or harmed.

As a tamilian I wanna say that Tamil new is not on Pongal. It's a great lie by one of our leading political leader Mr karunanithi. Pongal is the harvest festival like many other states. We celebrate this as thanksgiving festival for all that helped us to get the food, the sun God, the farmer, the cow and bull, and the mother earth. Our new year is the beginning of chaitra, in the mid of April.

The Tamil New Year follows the vernal equinox and generally falls on 14 April of the Gregorian year. 14 April marks the first day of the traditional Tamil calendar and is a public holiday in both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The Tropical vernal equinox falls around 22 March, and adding 23 degrees of trepidation or oscillation provides the Hindu sidereal transition or Nirayana Mesha Sankranti (the solar transition into the constellation of Aries). The Tamil calendar thus begins on the same date observed by most traditional calendars in India as in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Mithila, Odisha, Punjab and Tripura, and in Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The 60-year cycle is ancient and is observed by most traditional calendars of India and China, and is related to 5 revolutions of Jupiter, or to 60-year orbit of Nakshatras (stars) as described in the Surya Siddhanta. The 60-year cycle comes by 5 revolutions of Jupiter and 2 revolutions of Saturn. The relative position of Jupiter and Saturn in one particular year will be repeated after 60 years. The 60-year cycle was essentially conceived for predicting the climate of a particular year, as the relative position of the two major planets, Jupiter and Saturn, is recognized for its impact on climate.[1] The traditional Tamil year starts on 14 April 2016 [Kali Yuga 5118]. The year may also be dated according to the Vikram Samvat or Saka era. There are several references in early Tamil literature to the April new year. Nakkirar, Sangam period author of the Neṭunalvāṭai, wrote in the third century that the sun travels from Mesha/Chitterai through 11 successive signs of the zodiac.[2] Kūdalūr Kizhaar in the 3rd century refers to Mesha Raasi/Chitterai as the commencement of the year in the Puṟanāṉūṟu.[3][4] The Tolkaapiyam is the oldest surviving Tamil grammar that divides the year into six seasons where Chitterai marks the start of the Ilavenil season or summer. The 8th century Silappadikaaram mentions the 12 Raasis or zodiac signs starting with Mesha/Chitterai.[5] The Manimekalai alludes to the Hindu solar calendar as we know it today. Adiyarkunalaar, an early medieval commentator or Urai-asiriyar mentions the twelve months of the Tamil calendar with particular reference to Chitterai. There were subsequent inscriptional references in Pagan, Burma dated to the 11th century CE and in Sukhothai, Thailand dated to the 14th century CE to South Indian, often Vaishnavite, courtiers who were tasked with defining the traditional calendar that began in mid-April.

Wonderful! Well articulated artical..

I'm sure the cows are not "celebrating"

Pongal is not new year.. I thought Ugadi was .. please clarify.

Thank you for valuable post

Tamil new year is on APRIL, Pongal is not tamil new year.


Wouah ! Katyayani Savarit

Punit Bharat Modhgil Avdhesh Sapru.


This is a beautiful essay in simple yet eloquent style except for one error that it is not the Tamil new year but a harvest festival