This January 14 Hindu holiday celebrates the new solar year, considered to be the beginning of the new day for the gods and the end of their six-month night. It is observed quite differently in each region and has a different name depending on where it's celebrated -- Pongal in the south of India and Makar Sankrat in the north. But most festivities include a common theme of ceremonial cleansings, offerings, and celebrations of the harvest, and food plays an important symbolic role.
Pongal, which means "to boil over," refers both to the concept of bounty and to the traditional dish of rice boiled in milk, which is given to the gods as an offering. Sesame seeds, or til, are looked upon as a symbol of health and friendship. Sweets made from sesame and jaggery -- a special kind of sugar -- are exchanged on the holiday along with the saying, "accept these sweets and speak sweet words." The tradition reminds people to resolve past quarrels so that friendship can thrive.Cooking Light, Dec. 2005