Pongal, also called Makara Shankranthi, is the four day long festival that is celebrated on the first of the month of thai (pausha). Pongal is a celebration of the bounties of the spring harvest.
On the first day of Pongal, called Bogi, everything old, worn and dirty is cleaned up or thrown away. The entire house is tidied top to bottom and gaily decorated in preparation for the festivities to come. Bogi is on the last day of the month of margazhi (month of margashirsha).
The next day is the festival of Pongal. The house is decorated with mango leaves and intricate kolam (rangoli). This day is meant for the worship of Surya, the sun god. After all, everything, from the biggest to the smallest, depends on the sun for life, growth and sustenance. In villages, the spot touched by the first rays of dawn is decorated for the puja. The kolam for the puja represents the chariot or ratha of Surya. Surya sits resplendent in his chariot while his charioteer, Aruna, guides it across the sky. It has a single wheel with 24 spokes, representing the 24 hours in a day, and is pulled by seven horses, for the seven days of the week.
A new pot decorated with fresh turmeric leaves, sandalwood paste and kumkum, is filled with fresh milk and set to boil. As the milk boils, children shout “pongolo pongal”. Pongal in Tamil means both ‘to boil’ and ‘abundance’, so with those joyous cries are a prayer for abundance in harvest, wealth and prosperity. Afterwards, freshly harvested rice and jaggery are added to the milk to make chakkarai pongal and is then offered to Surya.
The third day of Pongal is called Maatu Pongal and is the day celebrating the cows and bulls, which form an integral part of agrarian life. The cows are decorated with bells and colorful ornaments and revered in the go puja. We thank the cows and the abundance of nature, never taking them for granted and recognizing that our life is richer because of their contribution.
Soon, it is time to enjoy sports like jallikattu and bull drawn cart races. The strength and the virility of the bulls are showcased in these traditional games. Bulls are seen as an integral member of the family and are never hurt in jallikattu. In maatu pongal, the importance of the bulls and cows in an agrarian society is reiterated and recognized.
Some families also celebrate Kanu Pongal on this day, where women offer rice and other foods to the birds and offer prayers for the health and prosperity of their brothers. Brothers, in turn, give gifts to their sisters.
The last day of Pongal is Kaanum Pongal where families and friends get together and visit temples, beaches, river banks and spend a day enjoying each other’s company. Mothers and grandmothers cook and pack mouth watering food for the day. The day is spent on visiting places with family, camaraderie and good food.
The celestial sky is divided into 12 parts, each part representing a rasi. The sun moves from one rasi to the next, and this astronomical event is called sankranthi, and this signifies the start of the new month. The sun moves to the makara rasi on pongal, and hence Pongal is also called as makara shankranthi and the first day of the month of thai (month of pausha).
This year, Pongal falls on 15th January for everyone East of 11 degree E longitude (Eastern Europe, Most of Africa and All of Asia). For dharmic people living west of 11E longitude ( Western Europe, Western Africa, All of the Americas), Pongal will be celebrated on 14th January.
Maha Shivaratri or Shivratri is always celebrated on the chaturdashi, the 14th day of Krishna paksha (the full moon to new moon portion of the lunar cycle). In the Purnamanta calendar, which is followed in the northern part of India, this day is in the month of phalguni, the 12th month of the Purnamanta calendar. In the Amanta calendar, which is followed in the southern part of India, this same day is in the month of magha, the 11th month in the Amanta calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, it varies from year to year and this year, it falls on the 18th of February.
On this day, many eons ago, Brahma and Vishnu pondered on how this universe and all its inhabitants came to be. Who was the Purusha - He who is capable of creation and of standing outside of it? As they looked for the answer, there appeared before them, a dazzling pillar of light (a jyotirlinga). This light extended beyond their vision. Now, looking at this light and realizing that it was the Parabrahman, the Supreme Being, Vishnu and Brahma were curious to know the beginning and the end of this light. Brahma took the form of a swan and flew upwards, trying to find the top, while Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug to find the feet. Unfortunately, they were unable to find the ends of the light pillar and returned defeated. Vishnu accepted that He could not find the feet of the light pillar; however Brahma presented a Ketaki flower that He had caught falling in the sky from the distant top and claimed that He had picked the flower from the top. For this lie, Brahma was punished and till today, Brahma is not the main deity in temples, and the Ketaki flower is never used in Shiva puja.
This day that Shiva showed Himself as this grandiose orb of light is celebrated as Shivaratri. In showing His majestic splendor, He demonstrated that He was omnipresent, with no beginning or end.
On this Maha Shivaratri day, let us sing the praises of our Shiva. He is easily pleased by true devotion or bhakti.
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In our day to day lives, we express our bhakti (devotion) by reciting slokas in praise of Bhagavan. Slokas explain to us the philosophy of dharma. We believe that the power of reciting any sloka is enhanced when one understands the meaning of the verse in the correct context. In this series, we bring you well researched meaning of the verses to start your journey towards the goal of understanding the slokas.