Bhogi is a midwinter festival celebrating the first day out of the four days of Pongal and Makara Sankranti. It usually arrives around 13th -14th January according to the Georgian calendar.
The festival is prominently celebrated in the southern states of India namely – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.
Why is Bhogi celebrated?
Bhogi is a term driven from a Sanskrit word Bhooz which denotes Happiness. This holy day is celebrated to mark the day when the goddess Godha Devi is said to be merged to Lord Sri Ranganatha Swamy at Srirangam.
Bhogi and Beliefs
The celebration is initiated by the exchange of wishes and delicacies amongst the purified natives, followed by welcoming the blessings of Lord Indra for an upcoming fruitful agricultural year.
Lord Indra and Sun are primarily worshipped on this occasion for the reason that Lord Indra is the God of rains which is, along with the sun, one of the most needed things for a healthy harvest. Hence Bhogi or ‘Bogi’ is also known as ‘Indian’.
The farmers perform special pooja on the first day of the festival to honour the sun. They smear all their ploughs and sickles with a sandalwood paste and then use these consecrated tools to slash freshly harvested rice. Fresh harvest of rice, sugarcane and turmeric are brought afterwards.
Bhogi and customs
On this occasion, people clean out every crook of their home and get rid of all the unwanted items. People gather in their houses and help collectively with domestic activities. The houses are whitewashed and scrubbed inside out and then decorate with ‘Kolams’ or designs made by rice paste and red mud outline with five petal pumpkin flowers and cow dung.
Besides the activities that bring people together at this festival, people bond over by sharing delicious delicacies like Purana poli, Paruppu Vada, Sakkara poli and Arisi Paruppu Payasam.
In other areas like Andhra Pradesh, Girls burn their old clothes and go for traditional oil massages and bath, putting new clothes afterwards. The ritual of ‘Pongal Panai’ is then initiated which includes a painting of earthenware pots which are then decorated with flowers, mango leaves and turmeric.
Bommala Kuluvu is the practice on families hosting parties at their houses and showcasing their dolls. These practices have said to encourage the habit of socializing in girls.
A Haridasu or a man who begs donations for rice is usually spotted playing street songs in one hand and wooden cymbals in the other. Gangireddu or Basavanna are also people who beg donations for rice and are seen singing folk songs with the clarinet. Bull dance is also popular in some regions.
The Bhogi bonfire
The essence of Bhogi is however the bonfire, also known as Bhogimantalu. A night previous to Pongal, People gather in open spaces to light a bonfire fueled with woods, old clothes or things which are no longer in use including agricultural waste. This riddance of the neglected things symbolizes a farewell to the old and a welcome to the new.
The more critical purpose of a bonfire is, however, to keep the residents warm as the last lap of the winter season passes by. It is lit at the early dawn, around 4-5 am.
Women are dressed up in new attires and worship the sun and land with Kumkum and sandalwood paste. People collectively sing songs in praise of the deity and dance around the bonfire.
Scientifically, the bonfire, when burned with material like dry cow dung cakes, Ghee, Peepal, Neem and Banyan tree wood should purify the environment with their medicinal properties. Factually, 10g of Ghee releases 1 ton of oxygen into the environment. Since the winters have a lot of airborne diseases being carried in the air, the combustion of these materials destroys these disease-causing microbes in the air. This is one of the most underrated yet efficient ways to reduce airborne diseases.
The combustion not only kills the disease-carrying microbes in our atmosphere but also acts as a detox for our nervous system by cleansing over 72,00 nerves. But unfortunately, people now are using rubber tires and plastics in the bonfire which can cause health problems.
Dancing, singing or just being around the bonfire raises our body temperature and kills disease-causing micro-organisms with the extra benefits of proving warmth in the last lap of the winter season.
Bhogi Pallu is a ritual where the elderly collects coins, fruits, gooseberries, jujube and Indian date which are then showered on the heads of small children. This ritual is said to protect the children from negative forces and brings future prosperity, success and fortune. Since Indian date is considered the favorite fruit for Lord Lakshmi Narayana, People believe that by showering these fruits on heads will acquire them blessings from the deity.
Scientifically, the reasons behind this ritual are explained by referring to the pineal gland which is also called the core of the brain or the third eye or Brahma Randram which exists on the top of the skull. The gland excites on the showering of fruits and hence the children are said to have increased intelligence.
The other meaning derived from this ritual can be that the showering of fruits on the head to state the respect for nature. Further, curated meanings include that our pride will fall like fruits and coins from the head and the only soul will reach the god.