A brief historical study of the origin and development of the Tamil Thai Pongal Vilaa

Thread started by virarajendra on 14th January 2012 09:08 PM

Author - Virarajendra

A Brief Historical Study of the Origin and Development of the Tamil Thai Pongal Vilaa

The origin of the Tamil Thai Pongal Vilaa

From the ancient times the life of the Tamil people of Tamil Nadu fell within five geographical regions of their country namely the Kurinji Nilam, Mullai Nilam, Marutha Nilam, Neithal Nilam and Paalai Nilam.

(1) Kurunji Nilam was a region with hills and land associated with hills
God Murugan was considered as the deity of this region.

(2) Mullai Nilam was a region with forests and land associated with forests
God Thirumaal was considered as the deity of this region.

(3) Marutha Nilam was a region with paddy fields and land associated with paddy fields
God Indiran was considered as the deity of this region.

(4) Neithal Nilam was a region with seafronts and land associated with seafronts
God Varunan was considered as the deity of this region.

(5) Paalai Nilam was a region with no water and vegetation
Normally abandoned by people.

The people of Marutha Nilam were Farmers working in paddy fields who cultivated and provided rice to all which was the staple food not only to the very people of Marutha Nilam the Farmers, but also to the people living in the other three geographical regions of Tamil Nadu. This created a great demand for rice and necessiating much cultivation and harvesting of paddy which found ready market among the people of Tamil Nadu.

As a result the coffers of the Farmers filled in, and the Farmer community became very wealthy and gradually maintained a higher standard of living compared with the people of the other regions of Tamil Nadu. This gave a new outlook to the Farmers in the Tamil society who were known as "Vellaaler", and in view of their better standards of living were considered as “high caste” people by the people of the other regions.

The paddy produced needed proper marketing to reap the benefits of production, and from the Vellaaler (farmers) community a new community branched off known as the Vanikar (traders). The Vanikars started with their sales activities in paddy, but subsequently they spread their sales also in the other commodities of their region and the other regions. These two communities by way of their mode of earning became much wealthy and maintained a better standard of living and earned much respect among the people of all societies.

These two communities celebrated a festival as thanksgiving to the God Indiran who graced them with all wealth and prosperity in life, being blessed with rich harvests and sales of their paddy to all communities of the Tamil Nadu. This festival was celebrated with "Pongal ceremony" in which the first measure of harvested new Rice was boiled with Milk and Vellam (Sakkarai) and was offered to God Indiran with other food offerings followed by Poosai valipadukal.

The early development as a festival to God Indiran

In the early days itself this festival in the name of God Indiran (the God of Rains) of the region the Marutha Nilam, gradually came to be celebrated by not only the Vellaler and Vanikar communities but also by all other communities within Tamil Nadu. In the Chola country of the second century A.D. it ended up as a big festival celebrated on the Chiththirai Natchaththiram day of the month of Chiththirai as "Indira Vilaa" especially in the region of Kaviripoompattinam of Chola Nadu patronised by the ruling Chola kings.

Silappathikarem the Tamil Epic of the second century A.D describes the festival offering to God Indra as follows:

".....Thevar Komaan (God Indran) ervalit poantha Kavat poothatthu kadaikelu peedikai, pulukkalum noalayum, vilukkudai madaiyum, povum, pukaiyum, Pongalum sorinthu Thunangaiyar kuravai anangelunthu aadi......"

Silappathikaram - by Ilango Adikal, Indira Vilaa vureduththa kaathai

However during the Silappathikarem and Manimekalai period a great sea erosion (tsunami) swept the Chola capital city the Kaviripoompattinam and this city submerged under the sea. This put an end to the great festival celebrated by the Vellalas and Vanigars around A.D.175. Thereafter this celebration continued to be celebrated in the name of God Indiran by the Vellaalers and Vanigars in a moderate way, until the invasion of Tamil Nadu by the Kalabras (Kalappirar) from present Karnataka state, who actively spread their religion the Jainism over the other religions of then Tamil Nadu.

Note: The earlier connection of Pongal Vilaa with God Indra is further confirmed by the present Bogi Pandikai celebrated the day prior to Thai Pongal, as Bogi was another name for God Indira.

The subsequent development as a festival to God Suuriyan

However during this period the thanks giving ceremony continued among the Tamil community, but with the Tamil Nadu coming under Kalabras and with the religious calamity in Tamil Nadu, the earlier religious 'traditions' of Vellaalers and Vanikars gradually been forgotton. It gradually took a new form as the ceremony to Sun God who helped them in their successful harvest instead of God Indiran who helped them with rain to reap good harvest, and celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month Thai being the 'first new month following after their paddy harvest' in the Tamil month of Markali.

The worship of Sun God in Tamil Nadu had been there even during the period of composition of the great 'Kerala' Tamil Epic the Silappathikaram days. Kerala - the former Chera Nadu - was one of the then three Muth Thamil Nadu). The poet Ilango Adikal before he started to compose this Silappathikarem makes his salutations to the Sun God as “Gnayiru pottruthum Gnayiru pottruthum" in his great Tamil epic poem.

The ceremony thanking the Sun God on the successful harvest of paddy continued for long in Tamil Nadu for long. Even during the medieval Chola period during the rule of Rajendra Chola - 1 (A.D.1011-1044) - this ceremony has been celebrated as an 'annual festival of offering the first harvest (crop) of Paddy to God'. This festival was called as the "Puthiyeedu Vilaa", which is the present Thai Pongal Vilaa. It is also evident from Inscriptions that the Tamil Thai Pongal Vilaa was also celebrated at the Thiruvottriyur temple in Tamil Nadu

".....In the 29th year of Emperor Rajendra Chola - 1 a gift of money was deposited on interest in (the form of) paddy with the inhabitants of Iganaiyur for providing offering every year for "Puthiyeedu Vilaa" (the festival of offering of first crop) made (to Thiruvottriyur temple) by Nakkan Kothai alias Kanchipuranangai......"

On a pillar at the central shrine of Aathipurisvara Shrine of Thiruvottriyur temple in north Tamil Nadu.
Annual Report on South Indian Epigraphy - 1912, Inscription No 139

Further the twelve Sankranthi days were celebrated in an auspicious manner at Rajarajaeswarem temple of Thanjavur during the period of rule of Emperor Rajaraja Chola - 1 (A.D.985-1014) 'Sankranthi' astrologically means the day of 'sacred change' (Veedu Maattram) of Sun from one Veedu (Raasi) to the next Veedu, precisely it is the day of the beginning of each Tamil month. In this context,the Makara Sankranthi being the movement of the Sun from Dhanu Veedu to Makara Veedu in mid January being the dawn of the Tamil Month Thai - the day of the traditional Tamilian festival the 'Thai Pongal' it is evident this Festival too was celebrated in the great Rajarajeswarem temple of Thanjavur of Tamil Nadu during the period of medieval Cholas.

".....camphor in excess of the daily rate, which is used for burning instead of the wick, on each of the thirty-four days, (namely) at the twelve festivals of Tiru-Sadaiyam, on the single day of (the nakshatra) Karttigai in (the month of) Karttigai, at the "twelve Sankranthis'', and on the nine days of the great (annual) Sacred Festival (utsavam of the temple Rajarajeswaram)......."

In the inner Gopura, on the right of the entrance to the Rajarajaeswarem Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
South Indian Inscriptions - Vol 2, Part 2, Inscription No: 26

During the period of the Emperor Kulothunga Chola - 1 (A.D.1070-1120) the Thai Pongal Festival was continued to be celebrsted. An individual named Thiruvenkadavan made a donation of a land of 1000 kulis (a measure of land) to the Vira Raghava temple at Thiruvallur in north Tamil Nadu from the income of which to celebrate the "Makara" Sankranthi festival annually at this temple.

"......In the fifth year of rule of Kulotunga Chola, one Thiru Venkadavan gave to the temple of Vira Ragava one thousand Kulis of land in Thalakauracheri for Makara Sankramana (Makara Sankranthi) festival....."

Inscription on a stone south of the Vimanam of Vira Raghava temple at Thiruvallur, Tamil Nadu
Inscriptions of Southern Districts - page 111, Inscription No: 1

Important Note

Some Scholars have put-forth some legends connecting the origin of "Tamil Thai Pongal Festival" of Tamil Nadu with some North Indian Legends. It should be noted that the "Thai Pongal Celebration" is essentially a "Tamilian Festival" that originated from Tamil Nadu - being the "Ulavar Thirunaal" and a "Thamilar Peru Vilaa", and have no connection whatsoever with the legends of North India. Most of these legends connecting them with "Tamil Thai Pongal Vilaa" came forth during the rule "Nayakkar kings from Andhra" and "Maraatiya kings from Maharashtra" over regions of Tamil Nadu.


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