This is a four-day harvest festival celebrated across the state of Tamil Nadu. The dates vary every year, but it usually falls in January or February. Pongal is a time for giving thanks to nature for bountiful harvest. The meaning of the word 'Pongal' is spilling over and it is called thus as there is a tradition of boiling rice until the pot starts overflowing.


The history of the festival can be traced back from 200 BC to 300 AD, when it started as a Dravidian harvest festival. It also finds mention in the ancient Hindu texts, the Puranas. Legend has it that during Pongal, the day of gods begins after a six-month-long night. On the first day, a special puja (ceremony) is performed and then the crop of paddy is harvested. Farmers anoint their ploughs and sickles with sandalwood paste and worship the earth and the sun. All the days of the festival are celebrated differently. The first day is for family and is called Bhogi Pongal. The second day is dedicated to the Sun god and is known as Surya Pongal. On this day, devotees offer jaggery and boiled milk to the god. The third day of the festival sees the worship of cattle (mattu) and is called Mattu Pongal. The rituals involve bathing the cattle, polishing their horns and painting them in bright colours. People also place garlands of flowers around the necks of the cattle. The food that is offered to gods is later given to cattle and birds to eat.


The festival has many legends associated with it. It is said that once Lord Shiva sent his bull, Basava, to earth and asked him to tell the mortals to bathe and have an oil massage every day and to eat food once in a month. However, Basava made an error and announced that people should eat every day and bathe once a month. Angered by his mistake, Lord Shiva cursed him and sent him to earth to plough the fields and help people produce food. That is how the day has come to be associated with cattle.

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