Maattu Pongal is the third day of the four-day Pongal festival. According to the Gregorian calendar it is celebrated on January 16.Though the name of the festival is specific to Tamil Nadu, it is also celebrated in other southern Indian states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Makar Sankranti is a festival that marks the start of northern declination (called Uttarayana in Sanskrit) of the Sun from the Zodiaca sign of Sagittarius (Sanskrit name: Dhanurmas) to Capricorn (Sanskrit: Makara), which according to Hindu calendar usually falls on 14 January.
In Tamil, the word “Mattu” means bull and this day of Pongal is for celebration of the cattle, particularly bulls that play a vital role by working hard to help the farmers to raise crops on their fields, falls on the following day, 15 January. The festival is also observed by ethnic Tamil population of Sri Lanka.
The festival day is also a special occasion when the landlord and the peasant, rich and poor, old and young all dine together in a spirit of bonhomie without any restraint of caste and creed. The festival is thus an occasion when the fresh harvests from the fields are shared in the form of food and sweets not only with the community but also with animals and birds. It also represents the change of season.
An important village sport, called the Jallikattu or Manji Virattu, an integral part of the Mattu Pongal festival is observed with enthusiasm and expectations in the villages of Tamil Nadu. This sport is held generally in the evening of the Mattu Pongal day. In the past, it was the day when fierce bulls were chased by young youths of the village to retrieve the money that was tied to the horns of the bulls. In some villages it was held one day after the Mattu Pongal day, on the Kannum Pongal day.
Mattu Pongal is made up of two words; ‘Mattu’ in Tamil means “bull”. Pongal, also in Tamil Language, literally means “boiled rice” (a rice and lentil dish) but metaphorically means prosperity. The Pongal festival also represents celebration of “fertility and renewal” and is observed either for three days or four-days, after the end of the monsoon season and rice (paddy) crop is harvested.
According to a legend linked to Mattu Pongal, god Shiva sent his bull Nandi (mount of Shiva and his gate keeper) from heaven to the earth to give his message to people that they should have an oil bath every day and eat once a month. Instead, Nandi wrongly advised people to take an oil bath once a month and eat every day. Shiva was annoyed with this advice related to food and in fit of rage, banished Nandi to permanently live on earth and help the farmers to produce the extra food crops needed for people to eat every day.