Pongal, the popular and the colourful festival of Tamil Nadu, is celebrated in the second week of January every year. It comprises three festivals combined into one named Bhogi, Pongal and Mattu Pongal.
Pongal literally means overflow. It has the every day reference to the boiling of the cooked rice over the oven in each household. This festival is celebrated during the harvest season and so it is all the more enjoyed by the peasants and landowners.
Pongal is otherwise known as Makara Sankranti. Makaram is the first day when the Sun is at the nearest point south of the equator and begins to go over again towards the north. Almost all the states in India observe Sankranti festival except the Punjab in the North and Kerala in the South.
On the eve of the Pongal festival villages in Tamil Nadu are busy with activities. The houses are cleaned and whitewashed. Drawings of Rangolis are drawn to decorate the floors and walls. These are called 'Kolams' in Tamil Nadu.
Even in the cities and towns of Tamil Nadu every Hindu household enjoys the Pongal festival. The womenfolk boil the rice in the oven and sing with joy 'Pongalo Pongal' along with other family members, when the milk overflows the pot. Overflowing of milk is considered a symbol of auspiciousness.
The Sun god (Suryadeva) is the main deity of worship during the Pongal festival. He is the god of warmth. He is absolutely necessary for the crops and the rain. Hence the Sun god is welcomed in every household. His figure is drawn on a plank or on the wall and puja is performed. Sugarcane and sweet pongal known as 'Sakkarai pongal' are offered to Sun god. On the Pongal festival day the inmates of the house adorn themselves with new clothes. Pongal is celebrated on the second day while the puja for Indra, god of thunderbolt is performed on the first day which is known as Bhogi.
Pongal is connected with Mother Earth. The tiller of the soil sees the labours of his hard work produce good results when he harvests bumper crops. So he is mortally required to thank the gods who have helped him.
The third day of the festival is celebrated in honour of the animals, bulls, cows and calves. The bulls have served the farmer in ploughing his field and drawing his loaded carts. The cow has given milk throughout the year. So both men and women do not forget the animals on this day. Besides cows, the bulls are decorated with their horns shaven and painted in rich colours. The calves are taken care of by the youngsters.
The animals are brought into the house and the family priest performs puja to them. Pongal (sweet rice) is then offered to them. The camphor flame is waved in front of them to throw off evil eyes. The villagers go in their carts to nearby towns to see the fair or films. In some villages bullfights are arranged. Bags of money are tied to the horns of the bulls. The man who overpowers the bull can have the money and he is praised as the hero. This kind of sport is known as Jallikkattu.