Pongal is a harvest festival dedicated to the Sun. It is a four-day festival, which according to the Tamil calendar is usually celebrated from 14 January to 17 January. This day coincides with [Makara Sankranti] which is celebrated throughout India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Pongal is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Tamil people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union Territory of Pondicherry, and the country of Sri Lanka, as well as Tamils worldwide, including those in Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, the United States, Singapore, Canada, Myanmar (Burma) and the UK. Thai Pongal corresponds to Makara Sankranti, the harvest festival celebrated throughout India.
Many cultural events in Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu are held during Pongal such as Chennai Book Fair and Lit for Life. From 1916 to 1952, annual cricket matches between Indians and Europeans called Madras Presidency Matches were held during Pongal.
Pongal is the happiest festival for farmers. They all celebrate their crop and harvest by gathering and performing their traditional rituals. They dress up in their colourful outfits. The colours seen all over the place marks this festival. The beautiful outfits, the mesmerizing decorations, the ritual goods etc are just examples.
The entire festival is stretched over four days.
The day preceding Pongal is called Bhogi. On this day people discard old belongings and celebrate new possessions. The people assemble at dawn in Tamil Nadu to light a bonfire in order to burn the discards. Houses are cleaned, painted and decorated to give a festive look. The horns of oxen and buffaloes are painted in villages. In Tamil Nadu farmers keep medicinal herb (neem, avram, sankranti) in northeast corner of each fields, to prevent crops from diseases and pests. This day is celebrated in Punjab as Lohri and in Assam as Magh Bihu.
On the second day of Pongal, the puja or act of ceremonial worship is performed when rice is boiled in milk outdoors in an earthenware pot and is then symbolically offered to the sun-god along with other oblations. All people wear traditional dress and markings, and their is an interesting ritual where husband and wife dispose off elegant ritual utensils specially used for the puja.
Maatu Pongal is celebrated the day after Thai Pongal. Tamils regard cattle as sources of wealth for providing dairy products, fertilizer, and labor for plowing and transportation. On Maatu Pongal, cattle are recognized and afforded affectionately. Features of the day include games such as the popular Jallikattu, known as the taming of bulls.
The Fourth day is known as Knau or Kannum Pongal day. On this day, a turmeric leaf is washed and is then placed on the ground. On this leaf are placed, the left overs of sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice colored red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains. In Tamil Nadu women perform this ritual before bathing in the morning.