Thai Pongal celebrations in Jaffna

March 6, 2014 at 11:30 am

One of the most important festivals for Tamil-Hindus, Thai Pongal, takes place every year on 14 January. Apart from being celebrated in Tamil Nadu, it is also celebrated by Tamil-Sri Lankans all over the country.

Thai Pongal is part of a 4-day harvest festival celebrated to thank the Sun God for its contribution to a successful harvest. In Tamil, ‘Pongal’ means ‘overflowing’, as in an abundance of something. Thai Pongal is followed by Maatu Pongal, a day when the cows are in turn celebrated for their contribution to the working of the land. 

On the morning of Thai Pongal, families traditionally prepare a Pongal dish (rice, milk and spices) in the morning which they then share with relatives and neighbours. Most families will then visit a Kovil to attend a Puja and make offerings.


Nallur Kandaswamy temple is Jaffna’s most famous. It was impossible to get shots of the Puja here as photography inside is unfortunately strictly prohibited.


One of the first devotees to visit Nallur temple in the early morning on Thai Pongal makes a prayer after having smashed a coconut. This ritual is symbolic of course, the coconut representing one’s own ego which should regularly be ‘smashed’ to attempt to remain humble.


Looking into Nallur Kandaswamy kovil.

In order to get some shots of Puja on Thai Pongal, I visited Nallur Sivan Kovil, just across the road. The local, charismatic Swamy was extremely welcoming and with only a small crowd was present, the experience was much more accessible to a non-Hindu foreigner than in the busier Nallur Kandaswamy temple. After the Puja, the Pongal dish was served to all present and musicians played traditional Hindu music on the nadaswaram (long flute) and thavil (percussion), before an Indian violinist visiting from the UK played for a good half-hour.


Many children helped out with the Puja in Nallur Sivan Kovil.

The Swamy pours water to thank the God of Water for contributing to the harvest. 


The Swamy lights candles which he holds to the sky, thanking the Sun God for its contribution to the harvest.

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