Pongal, a four-day festival, is a harvest festival dedicated to the Sun God. It begins today, January 15 and will continue till January 18. For Tamilians, this is one of the most auspicious festivals. Pongal is mainly celebrated to offer prayers to the Sun God for a good harvest. The festival, which is celebrated over four days, coincides with Makar Sankranti, which is celebrated in north India and begins a day after Lohri this year.
Pongal marks the start of the Sun's six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttarayanam). Pongal translates to "spilling over" and the festival derives its name from the tradition of boiling rice in a pot till it starts overflowing. Other popular traditions in the celebration of Pongal include the drawing of rangolis and cooking of the Pongal dish, which is a Tamil preparation of rice boiled with milk and jaggery.
It is celebrated by boiling the first rice of the season and corresponds with Makar Sankranti, a pan-Indian solar festival. The traditional sweet dish of "Pongal", made from newly-harvested rice and jaggery is prepared at home on this day. Jallikattu, a traditional bull-taming event, is held during Pongal.
The first day of Pongal is called Bogi, or Bhogi Pongal, and is celebrated in honour of Lord Indra. Lord Indra is considered the God of clouds and rains, and is believed to bring plenty and prosperity to the land.
The second day, which is today, is known as Surya Pongal and is dedicated to the Sun God. The third day is dedicated to cattle and is called Mattu Pongal. It is on this day that parts of the country hold the Jallikattu festival. The fourth and final day is called Kaanum Pongal, or Thiruvalluvar day, which marks the end of the festival for the year.
Apart from Tamil Nadu, Pongal is also popular in the Union Territory of Puducherry. It is also celebrated by the many Tamil people staying abroad, especially in neighbouring Sri Lanka.