How to plan a Pongal / Thai thirunaal party (South Indian Thanksgiving celebrations)?

One cold morning in January I woke up remembering a dream that pepped up my mood for the day. A dream which has my cousins in it. A dream where I was celebrating a festival with my large family. As I got back to brush my teeth, I saw my phone blink. I knew there were few emails. I opened them and began to read one after the other. There was one mail which caught my attention. It was the notice for the foodbuzz 24×24 proposal for the month of January. I was hesitant first but later decided to submit something relevant for this month. I wrote a proposal about pongal, the very first festival for the new year and yay! I got selected for this month’s foodbuzz 24×24 event.

South Indians celebrate pongal (a three day harvest festival) on 14th January of every year. India is an agriculture based country where harvest plays an important role.Once a year, the farmers express their gratitude to the nature (sun and rain) and cattle for the bountiful farming season. Indian version of “Thanksgiving” is the famous festival called “Pongal“. The festival is celebrated for four days.

Day 1: Bhogi pongal
On the day of bhogi, The house is decorated with elaborate kolams, doors smeared in circular shape with sandalwood or turmeric paste and a dot of red kumkumis placed at the centre of the circle and garlands of mango leaves adorn the entrance of every home.  Everyone at home applies sesame oil from head to feet and would take a bath early in the morning. It is believed that when one does this ritual, their mind and soul gets purified. This is followed by huge born fires where unwanted trash like old bamboo mats, clothes are burned down in the fire. Presently there is a ban by the government as it leads to immense air pollution. When I asked my grandmother the reason behind this tradition, she gave me a  reply which sounded convincing to me.

“In olden times since the weather got cold in January (referred to as Markazhiin Tamil), people would burn down wood and twigs and would sit around the bonfire to warm themselves. That’s how the tradition to burn down old stuffed for bhogi started. Bhogi to me is the time to replace old with the new”. She explained. “But…” she continued, “these days people burn tires and other useless stuffs which will create smoke and pollution”.

Day 2: Surya Pongal (Pongal to worship Sun)
Pongal means to boil over and traditionally the milk is boiled in a new earthenware pot which is tied with fresh turmeric and ginger and let to boil over. This ritual symbolizes the beginning of a new year’s prosperity. We celebrate the festival at my grandparent’s village every year, we would decorate the courtyard with kolam, flowers, sugarcane and an open fire is set with wooden barks and stones. Sweet pongal called sankara pongalis made with rice, lentil, jaggery and milk and cooked in the open fire with the blessings of the Sun God. As per the tradition, the eldest daughter-in-law or the mother-in-law herself would cook the mixture and would let it boil and spill over. After being tempered with cashewnuts and raisins, they are offered to Sun God along with other dishes like vadais (lentil fritters) and payasam (vermicilli puddings).

Day 3: Mattu pongal – Pongal for cattles
Since cattles form an integral part of any harvest, our ancestors felt that pongal celebration would be incomplete without offering a thanks to them. On this day the bullocks are decorated with garlands, flowers and bells. Their horns are painted and colorful ribbons are tied at its end. I have even seen even balloons being tied around their neck and horns. In my grandparent’s village, every cattle owner would parade through the street and walk infront of the animal with pride with their eyes. In certain parts of Tamil Nadu, there would be bull fights called jallikattu. The one who tames the bull would get a title and also a huge sum of prize money.

Day 4: Kannum pongal (Kanum means seeing someone)
On this day, women at home pray for the well being of their brothers and  sisters would visit their brothers and their family to offer sweets and savory.

Accordingly to the Hindu calender, Pongal marks the beginning of an auspicious year. It’s the time of the year for a new beginning,a time to build traditions, a time to bond with the family and re-create the memories of the past. I remember celebrating it with my cousins at our grandparent’s native town. Now everyone has got busy with their life and have moved to different parts of the world, but on this day each one of us make an effort to share the fun and stories with friends and kids. This dinner party will speak for itself the tradition and the hospitality with which we have been raised. I decided to host a pongal party at my residence yesterday. Friends who I know celebrate this festival were invited to enjoy my traditional menu.

Menu (South Indian Cuisine)


Masala vadai (savoury lentil fritters)
Sakkara pongal (sweetened rice cooked with jaggery and cardamon)

Main Course
Sambhar with mixed vegetables
Rasam (spicy tomato soup)
Pumpkin sweet curry
Raw Plantain fry

Spicy pineapple curry
Indian pickle
Buttermilk seasoned with spicesDessert
Semiya payasam (vermicilli pudding)

My son enjoying masala vadai

We had a wonderful time talking about the festival, how we miss home and the night ended enjoying the wonderful vegetarian meal. Since I shopped for most of the ingredients from the local farmer’s market, I felt that I expressed my thanks for their hardship by buying from them regularly and this thanksgiving celebration has definitely influenced my other friends to go out and enjoy shopping and interacting with the local farmers from the Bay area.

I am sharing one recipe from my elaborate meal. I’ll be posting the recipes for all the other dishes in the days to come.

Recipe source: My mother

Serves 4

1 large ripe pineapple – clean, remove skin and cut into chunks
2 cups water
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup coconut (dessicated or fresh) – shredded
2 green chillies
1 inch ginger – minced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
10-12 curry leaves
1 tablespoon oil
Salt to taste

1. Bring two cups of water to a boil. Add turmeric powder, salt and sugar. Stir to combine. Mix in the pineapples and cook covered for 20 minutes, until done.
2. Grind the coconut, ginger and green chillies to a coarse paste without water. Add this paste to the cooked pineapple. Mix well to combine.
3. In a separate pan, heat oil and once they ripple add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Then add the curry leaves and cumin seeds. Pour this over the pineapple and stir well. Let it cook in low flame for another 2 minutes. Remove and switch off the flame.

I want to thank Foodbuzz for giving me the opportunity to share this meal with my friends and now with you all.

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  1. Loved the 1st photograph and then the pumpkin curry on little forks… So bright and chirpy 🙂

    Thats quite a spread.. awesome!

  2. Wow…that's an delectable treat….perfect for the festive celebration… the way you pictured everything….Pumpkin curry is new to me…looks yum…

  3. Omigosh!!! You made soooo many things for Pongal!!?!! Was all that cooked within a day?!? Wow, that's some hearty meal! 🙂

  4. I have always loved pongal food. Its been a while my friends treated me to it 🙂 Thanks for the reminder of some great time

  5. congrats dear…………………wonderful collection….superb…hope u enjoyed it well

  6. This made an amazing read, thank you for sharing with us! I love the recipes you have here, having got South Indian relatives, I have always loved the food! Am following you on Google Connect, hope to see you on my site some time! xx

  7. yaayy for foodbuzz 24*27 :-)Such a lovely post V 🙂 I used to celebrate Pongal with our friends while I was in India. Also my B'day falls on the main day (Jan 14th), so anyways it's still a celebration anywhere I'm 🙂

  8. I love pongal .. spicy one. God! This post is so beautiful .. you explained everything so nicely and the food is making me hungry!

  9. that is so informative, dint know many of the facts. congrats on the feature, the whole spread looks delectable! its amazing the no of dishes u actually prepared…

  10. It's really awesome..and healthy thanksgiving recipes. I have made it for my friends on the occasion of thanksgiving's very delicious. I like it very much thanks for sharing the recipe.

  11. Everything looks great, but the ananas curry seems to die for delicious! Great party!

  12. Pingback: Vengal Pongal | Spices and Aroma | Food, Life and Stories

  13. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did
    you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz answer back as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to know where u got this from.
    thanks a lot

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