Pongal is normally considered to be a dish more than a festival . If you think so you are not mistaken, a dish called pongal does exist. But, the pongal festival is a day in which pongal is mainly cooked from the freshly harvested rice .So, I believe thats how the festival got its name :)
Pongal is the most popular harvest festival in South India, especially Tamil Nadu. Pongal falls in the mid-January every year and marks the auspicious beginning of the sun's journey north wards.
The celebrations include drawing kolam ( a design made out of powdered rice and some times also color powders) , cooking , visiting relatives et all..
The pongal festival is celebrated for four days
This first day of the festival is called Bogi or Bohgi (is celebrated today) in the honor of "the god of clouds and rains- Indra" for the abundance of harvest and the prosperity brought to the land.
On Bhogi, people clean their homes and collect all unwanted goods . Keeping the home clean is one of the essential parts of the Pongal festival , so in places like my home cleaning starts almost a month ahead - if you remember we jus' repainted our home last month so that we could get it done before this festival.
On the eve of Pongal homes are decorated with kolams (designs made out of rice powder or liquid rice paste). Fresh harvest of rice, turmeric and sugar cane are brought from the field as preparation for the following day (but these days its bought from shops).
Another ritual observed on this day is Bhogi Mantalu(bon fire), when useless household articles are thrown into a fire made of wood and cow-dung cakes. Girls dance around the bonfire, singing songs in praise of the gods, the spring and the harvest. The significance of the bonfire, in which is burnt the agricultural wastes and firewood is to keep warm during the last lap of winter.
(But, due to pollution issues many of them have stopped performing this ritual, but on the other hand you can still find the roads of Chennai filled with smoke when you get up the day after Bhogi)
Now, I got to have my dinner in sometime and start making kolam in front of my home :)
Wish you all a Happy Pongal! Yen Iniya Pongal vazthukal :)
* Pics source - Internet