The first day is called Bhogi. Many people burn and get rid of old household items and purchase new household items on this day. This marks the start of a new cycle.
The second day is Perum, also known as Surya Pongal or Thai Pongal, and is the most important day of Pongal. This day coincides with Makara Sankranthi which is a winter harvest festival celebrated throughout India. The day marks the start of sun’s six-month long journey northwards or the Uttarayanam. The day is also believed to mark the arrival of spring in India. This also represents the Indic solstice when the sun purportedly enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac i.e. Makara or Capricorn. The word ‘Sankranti’ means the transmigration of the Sun from one Rashi (Zodiac) to another, namely from Dhanu Rashi (Sagittarius) to Makar Rashi (Capricorn). Many people worship the sun god, Lord Surya by offering prayers on this day. Many people also wear new clothes and women decorate houses with Kolam (designs) using rice flour and red clay. People celebrate the occasion by flying kites, from their rooftops. Kite flying competitions are also organised on this festival. One major aspect of this festival is a must-take bath in the holy Triveni Sangam in the city of Prayag in Allahabad. Famous as the king of all holy places, this Sangam is the point of confluence of three rivers: the Ganges, the Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati. All the gods are said to visit this place on this day to take a dip. Thus, people believe that taking a bath or dip in this sacred Sangam will not only wash away all their sins but also clear the way to heaven.
Mattu Pongal is the third day and includes worshipping cattle because it is believed that cattle help give a good harvest. The fourth day is called Kanum Pongal, which is when many people go on picnic and spend time with families and friends. The Pongal festival also includes exchanging gifts, dancing, and buffalo-taming contests.
It is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Tamil people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry, and Sri Lanka.
In Tamil, the word Pongal means "overflowing" which signifies abundance and prosperity. On the day of Pongal, at the time of sun rise there is a symbolic ritual of boiling fresh milk in a new clay pots and when the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, people shout "Pongalo Pongal!" They also say "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum" meaning "the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities" is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival. Thai Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey the appreciation and thankfulness to the Sun as it act as the primary energy behind agriculture and a good harvest. It is the Surya Mangalyam. Tamilians decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with decorative patterns drawn using rice flour.
Pongal is associated with many legends but one of the most popular ones is the legend of Govardhan Mountain and legend of Lord Shiva and his bull, Nandi. According to the legend of Govardhan Mountain, Lord Krishna lifted the mountain on his little finger on Bhogi, which is the first day of Pongal, to protect the cattle and people from Indra, an angry rain god.
According to the legend of Lord Shiva, on the third day of Pongal, Lord Shiva sent his buffalo Nandi to tell people to have oil bath daily and eat once a month. However, Nandi became confused and told people to eat daily and bathe once a month. This angered Lord Shiva so he placed Nandi on earth to help humans harvest for more food, therefore Pongal became a harvest festival.
Pongal has many regional names. The most popular variations are:
- Makar Sankranti