Pongal is celebrated at the same time every year, at the start of the Tamil month, Thai. This year Pongal will be celebrated from January 13 to 16. The main festivities occur on Saturday January 14 (known as Surya Pongal or Thai Pongal). Makar Sankranti is a day when the sun passes from one sign to the Zodiac to another. Pongal marks the beginning of the sun’s northern course. Punjabi’s celebrate this festival as Lohri in a traditional style. For Tamilians the first day is Bhoi Pongal, the Pongal of Joy. People make a new beginning by burning the old and unwanted items to give their home a renewed look. On Bhogi Pongal day people exchange sweets and lit a fire and dispose off the old items and look forward to welcome the new year.
The second day is Surya Pongal, and this day is dedicated to the Sun God. People wake up early in the morning and have their bath. Married women have their chores to complete. They put rice to the boiled milk ideally in a pot on fire and as soon as it begins to simmer, they all shout together “Pongalo Pongal”. The pot is decorated with fresh and green tamarind round it. The sweet thus prepared is then offered to the Sun God and Lord Ganesha. A portion of it is also offered to cows. Again sweets are exchanged. After meeting each other they ask “Has it boiled”? (just like the Ganga Sthanam Aacha during Diwali Day.) To which they invariably answer, “Yes it is boiled”. That is why this festival is called Pongal. Pongal means the rice is boiled with milk in the traditional manner.
The third day is Mattu Pongal or the Pongal for the cows. On this day, cows and oxen are worshipped and circumambulated. Their horns are painted in various colours, garlanded with leaves and flowers are hung around their necks. On this day, cows are allowed to graze anywhere they like, without any restraint. Pongal also marks the change of season, and is primarily a harvest festival. India is an agricultural country and cows and oxen play a vital role in agriculture hence they are worshipped and venerated. The new reaped harvest is shared with friends, relatives, beasts and birds. Bird feeding (especially crows) is considered to be auspicious on this day. Women offer special coloured rice balls to birds in a ritual called Kaka Pudi Kannu Pudi, and they pray for the well-being of their brothers. This day is also known as Kaanum Pongal. And on the fourth day, Thiruvalluvar Day (remembrance of noted Tamil Poet) people go for picnic, fair and watch movies by carrying eatables along with them. Notably we can see yellow rice, white coconut rice and Pongal are being carried by picnickers.