Bhogi, celebrated on the first day, is also another name for Indra, lord of the rains. Bhogi in fact signifies a change in the weather cycle—the monsoon is officially over. The harvest season comes to an end and Bhogi is our own Thanksgiving festival, where Indra is felicitated for sending down a balanced monsoon—too much of rains would have ruined standing crops and too little would have dried up the food production. In Silapathikaram, there are references to how 108 pots were carried by women to his temple, and thanksgiving festivities went on signifying change. Curtains come down on the old, symbolised by the burning of the chaff from the harvest.
At a spiritual level, Bhogi is about getting rid of negative or evil thoughts and purging one’s mind of all ills. In one of the Thiruppavai pasurams, Andal says, “Let’s discard old thoughts like throwing cotton in a fire.” As human beings, most of us tend to hold on to a lot of junk. For example, in a number of houses, you will find the empty cartons of Sumeet mixer still holding pride of place in their lofts, even though packaging technology has improved vastly. Similarly, many of us cling to past injuries and vengeful thoughts originating from earlier injustices done to us. We should burn all such old memories and start afresh. The system of going through one’s household, and consigning unwanted stuff to a bonfire signifies the need to shift gears and move towards salvation. The wearing of new clothes on Bhogi signifies the shedding of the old and embracing the new.
If Bhogi is about rain god, Pongal is about Surya, the sun god. As science tells us, sun is the ultimate source of energy. In Silapathikaram, Ilango Adigal says, Gnayiru pottruvom; Valluvar says Adhi bhagavan mudatre ulagu ” (sun is supreme); in the Gayathri mantra, sun is given prime position.
Pongal is celebrated in every household as the harbinger of all that is good and positive. As Subrahmania Bharati has said, it is about Uzhavukkam thozhillukkum vandhanai seivom — saluting hard work and ploughing. It is mandatory for every household to cook Pongal in a new (or family heirloom) pot placed on a tripod and cooked over wood fire. Spiritually, the significance lies in learning how to cook a pot of perfect happiness, filled with the fragrance of inner purity. A deeper reading of the ritual will tell you that the pot is our mind, and the three-legged stove is nothing but our love, patience and inner balance; the cover is our high thoughts and the pot is lit with the fire of knowledge. When the entire pot boils over, it denotes sheer bliss. The sugarcane on the side of the pot represents true happiness, devoid of petty envy and lower thoughts; ginger, tied to the pot, represents health (physical and mental), while turmeric, also tied to the pot, signifies auspicious thoughts and inner purity.
Pongal is also the first day of the month of Thai and an old proverb says, Thai pirandhal vazhi pirakkum (Path will open up when the month of Thai is upon us). At a literal level, it refers to the fact that the pathway on the fields, hidden by crop would be clear after harvest is over. At a deeper level, Thai stands for another chance for all of us, a fresh beginning towards our ultimate goal of gaining God’s blessings and attaining His feet.
— The writer lectures on spirituality and devotion