The third day of ‘Pongal’ is dedicated to cattle so it is known as ‘Mattu Pongal’. People offer prayers to bulls, cows and other farm animals. Cows and bulls have always been special in Hinduism in India. Cows provide nourishing milk. Bulls and oxen help in ploughing the fields. Hence, on ‘Maatu Pongal’ day cattle are given their well deserved day of rest and are given pride of the place. The farmers honour their cattle by giving thanks to them and celebrating the day especially for the cattle.
During Pongal, Lord Ganesh and Goddess Parvati are worshiped. ‘Pongal’ is offered to them in puja. According to a legend, once Shiva requested his bull, ‘Basava’, to descend to Earth. Shiva instructed Basava to ask mortals to take oil message and bath every day and eat once a month. Accidently, Basava informed all mortals to eat daily and have oil bath once a month. This mistake annoyed Shiva who cursed and banished Basava to live on Earth forever. Basava had to plough fields to help farmers produce more food. Hence, this legend is associated with the day for cattle.
On the third day of ‘Pongal’, the cattle are washed. Their horns are painted and covered with shining metal caps. Their necks are adorned with multi-coloured beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands. The cattle are fed with ‘Pongal’. The cattle are taken to village centres where devotees worship by paying respect to cattle. Devotees bend down in similar manner as they do while praying in temples. Devotees touch feet and foreheads of the cattle. As a traditional ritual, devotees perform ‘aarthi’ [showing fire to object of praise] and offer ‘Pongal’ (‘prasadam’).
‘Jallikattu’- A Bull Festival:
‘Jallikattu’ festival is held in Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur on the third day of ‘Pongal’. Bundles of money are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls. The brave, courageous young village men have to control the bulls and then retrieve them. Everyone shares the community meal made of freshly harvested rice. ‘Jallikattu’ also called ‘Tamizhar Tirunal’ is celebrated appropriately throughout Tamil Nadu.