Mattu Pongal 2024: Significance & Rituals Of The Third Day
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On the third day of the harvest festival in Tamil Nadu – also known as Mattu Pongal – cattle, specifically bulls, are honoured for their contribution in ploughing the fields, that helps farmers gain a good harvest. Also observed in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, mattu pongal is also celebrated by the Tamil populace in Sri Lanka. This worship of farm animals stems from a combination of mythological and traditional factors that come together in the form of the many rituals that follow on this day.

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Rituals & Significance

According to Hindu mythology, the legend behind mattu pongal starts off with a story of Lord Shiva’s trusted mount bull, Nandi, to earth as a way of letting people know to have an oil bath everyday and eat once a month. When the bull descended to earth, a casual swap in information led to the people eating everyday and having an oil bath once a month instead. An annoyed Shiva then banished Nandi to earth, where he is said to be toiling in farms, helping the men cultivate crops.

The kolam – or decorative drawings made with rice flour and water outside homes – also has designs and motifs of cattle on the third day. The rituals on this day start off with the cattle being given a bath, their horns scrubbed and painted, after which they are decorated with metal caps, beads, trinkets and flowers. A mixture of turmeric and vermillion powders are applied to the forehead of the cattle, followed by a sprinkling of saffron water using mango leaves.

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A sacred camphor flame or aarti is shown to the cows, bulls and oxen, with an offering of sweet pongal prasadam fed to them right after. A cattle procession then takes place, where local instruments and music is played. Mattu pongal is also a special day for a local practice known as jallikattu – where a bag of coins (which is the prize money) or flags are meant to be acquired by the winner who must pursue and tame the wild bull attempting to get it.

The practice unfolds when a bull is let out in the open into a large crowd of people and participants approach the aggressive animal to grab its hump for as long as possible until it turns submissive. Practiced largely in the western and southern parts of Tamil Nadu, it is believed that Indian male cattle breeds gained virility than benefitted the bloodline of calves that followed – thus making them stronger and of higher endurance. Said to be a tribal cultural ritual that originated from the Ayar tribe, the sport went on to symbolise bravery and valour.