Pongal Festival and Festivities in January

Pongal Festival and Festivities in January
The festival of Pongal follows immediately after the Tamil month of Margazhi. In the Tamil calendar, the month Margazhi that lasts from mid-December to mid-January every year. To me, it brings back vivid memories from my childhood, from the streets of Madras (now Chennai). Madras never had winters, but there was a nip in the air. This was the city’s version of winters.

The month of Margazhi

The Margazhi month has a special place in my heart. One of my fond memories are of Amma, who woke up early, and went about her morning Pooja with a towel tied around her wet hair. She used to make huge kolam or Rangoli outside the house. MS Subbulakshmi’s “Kaushalya Suprabhatam” wafted in the air from the tape recorder -that unfailingly added to the festive mood of the day. . Everything was picture perfect. And then Amma used to make, what is my favourite South Indian breakfast – Pongal.  The month of Margazhi is for worshipping Lord Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu – who forms the Holy Trinity along with Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma, according to the Hindu beliefs.  So, all through this month, the devotees offer Pongal to Lord Krishna -first thing in the morning.
On the first day of the month of course, the Naivedyam or offering to the Lord consists of Sakkarai or Sweet Pongal along with Ven Pongal,or just Pongal – the salty Pongal, usually had with coconut chutney. My breakfast for the entire month used to be just Pongal. I used to be a butt of ridicule from my brothers for this, but who I couldn’t care less.

Vaikuntha Ekadasi – The Gateway To Heaven

This same month has a very important day called Vaikuntha Ekadasi – a day dedicated to Lord Vishnu. My grandma – Paati and Amma went to the temple the previous evening, stayed overnight to see the darshan at 4 am, called the “Swarga Vasal” or the Gateway to Heaven. People believe that, having this Darshan, would ensure they attain heaven after their death. The spiritual people (read : the family elders) were awake all night for darshan, singing bhajans and prayers for Lord Vishnu. Others, like my elder sisters, spent the night watching movies (there were special movie telecasts on the television back then). When Amma returned the next morning, we used to feast on the fresh, tasty Pongal that she made.
Vaikunda Ekadasi at the Parthasarathy Temple, Chennai. Pic Courtesy: Vikatan.com

A sweet-spice festival dish

The month of Margazhi is also the month when the community celebrates Thiruvadhirai, the festival of Lord Shiva. The offering for the Lord on this day was Thiruvadhirai Kali ( a sweet preparation)  and Thalagam ( a spicy, coconut-gravy based vegetable stew).  The unique, unusual combination of sweet and spicy dish tastes out of this world. 
The sweet-spice combination – Thiruvadhirai Kali and Thalagam
Here are the recipes:


Thiruvadhirai Kali is a jaggery based sweet dish that is flavored with coconut. It is made in the festive Tamil month of Margazhi.
Course Lunch, Main Course
Cuisine south Indian


  • 1 cup Raw Rice
  • 1.5 cup Roughly powdered jaggery
  • ¼ cup Grated Coconut
  • ¼ cup Ghee or Clarified Butter
  • 5-6 pieces Cashewnuts
  • ¼ tsp Cardamom Powder
  • 2 tsp Cooking Oil
  • A pinch of asafetida
  • 1 tsp Mustard Seeds
  • Handful of curry leaves and coriander leaves


  • Heat the plain rice in a kadhai or a wok. Roast it on low flame till golden brown in colour.
  • Now grind this rice coarse, about the consistency of rava or sooji or semolina. Keep it aside.
  • In another kadhai, melt the jaggery with a little water. Once completely melted, filter the jaggery water for impurities.
  • Now bring the jaggery water to a boil in another kadhai
  • Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat and add the grated coconut slowly while mixing continuously
  • Turn up the heat again. Now add the rice/rava you had ground at the beginning to this mixture, while stirring continuously to avoid lumps.
  • Add the ghee and turn the heat to low and let it cook for a few seconds till it thickens
  • Now pressure cook this in a separate vessel, in a cooker for three whistles.
  • Once taken out of the pressure cooker, heat ghee in a pan, add cashewnuts and cardamom powder. Add this to the rice dish while the rice is hot
  • Thiruvadharai Kali is now ready. It is best served with the Thalagam or Ezhukari (Seven Vegetables) Kootu
Keyword holy food, margazhi festivities, south Indian festive food, temple food, thiruvadhirai Kali

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