Makar Sankranti, popularly called Thai Pongal or Thai Pandigai, is an important festival celebrated in the state of Tamil Nadu (TN) on January 14 of the Gregorian calendar. Pongal is the indicator of the arrival of the Spring season. Its significance arises from the timing of Harvest-time labouring of the year in Tamil Nadu and hence can be called the Harvest Festival of this state.  For the same fact, it is also one of the All-India celebrations that come in different flavours and traditions from across the various Indian states.
Thai Pongal

Significance

Astrologically, the Sun enters the house of Capricorn – called Makar in Sanskrit – on the day of Makar Sankranti. Though traditionally Indians follow the calendar that is based on lunar movements, Makar Sankranti is a solar event. The date of occurrence of Makar Sankaranti usually remains the same as per the Gregorian calendar. Over a thousand-year period or so, there might be slight changes in the date in accordance with the shift in the earth’s axis. The popular belief is that the Sun ends its journey towards South at the Tropic of Capricorn and begins its Northward journey until it reaches the Tropic of Cancer. Scientifically, however, the fact is that the Earth revolves round the Sun and reverses its direction at Aposys and Perisys position of its orbit. The day of Makar Sankranti signifies the beginning of longer days as compared to the duration of the nights.

Rituals, Traditions and Food

Thai Pongal is celebrated on four days: The day prior to Pongal is called Bhogi Pongal . The old rudimentary items are disposed of this day. This day shows the importance of removing all the dirt and unwanted things from our home as well as our mind and making room for new ideas or things to enter our mind and life.
Makar Sankranti in Tamil Nadu
The next is Pongal, the main day of celebration, when the Sun God is prayed to for prosperity and wealth. The Sun God is prayed to for making the harvest successful. In the early morning, milk is boiled in big mud pots kept over mud stoves that are common in villages. When the boiled milk spills over from the brim of the pot, people shout "Pongalo Pongal", from which the festival got its common name of "Pongal". Sweet Pongal, Salted pongal, sambar, rasam, milk payasam (kheer), adhirasam, vadai, and curd pacchadi are prepared for lunch.

The very next day after Pongal is celebrated Mattu Pongal when obeisance is paid to the cattle – cow, buffalo, ox, goat, and the sheep – that help us in agricultural or laborious harvest works. The cattle are decorated with sandal paste, vermillion, turmeric, flowers and bells made out of grasses, “netti” shoots and flowers. In villages of Madurai, Tirunelveli, and Ramanathapuram, Jellikattu is an important event, which is a contest for taming the wild bulls. The sweet rice pongal and the salted pongal are served to the cattle as a sign of gratefulness.

The fourth day of celebration is called "Kannum Pongal" or Karinaal , the day when the people in the village meet their relatives and friends to thank them for their support during the harvest time. Thiruvalluvar Day or Uzhavar Thirunaal is also celebrated on the same day to realize the importance of farmers in the nation.

Spiritual Significance

As per the Hindu line of beliefs, the Sun is a symbol for knowledge, wisdom, and spirituality. The Sun is also a sign of purity, as it removes the dirt and filth around it by absorbing them in itself. The day of Makar Sankranti illumines the mind of the people and reminds them to turn away from the darkness and delusions of this world.

Legends

As per the Puranas (legendary literaries), Sun is the father and Capricorn (Saturn) is his son. On the Day of Makar Sankranti, the Sun visits the house of His son (Capricorn or Makar) for a month, in spite of a tough relationship between them. Thus, this day also portrays the importance of the Father-Son relationship. This is also the day when Lord Vishnu (one of the Hindu trinities) brought an end to the atrocities of the demons and burying them under the Mandara Parvata (a mountain). Also, Bhishma, who had the boon to choose his day of death, left his mortal body on this day to escape from transmigration.

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