Pongal or Thai Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated by Tamilians all over India for four days in the second week of January. This year, the festival is being celebrated on 15 January.

More than a religious observance, the harvest festival is considered a time to thank Surya — the Sun god — for bringing wealth and prosperity in our life. In Tamil, the word Pongal means "overflowing", and as part of the festival, the womenfolk boil milk in new pots, decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves and draw rangoli (decorative patterns) on the floor using rice flour.

A sweet named pongal made of rice, cardamom, jaggery, raisins, green gram and cashew nuts is also prepared as part of the festival, and is regarded as an offering to the Sun god.

Read more: Makar Sankranti/Pongal wishes, messages and greetings

How is Pongal observed by Tamilians?

The first day of the festival is called Bhogi, when people throw unused things into a fire made of wood and cow-dung cakes, around which girls dance and sing praising the Lord. This day is celebrated in Assam as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu, and in Punjab as Lohri.

Thai Pongal is the most important day of the festival, and coincides with Makar Sankranti, when the womenfolk boil milk in new pots, and once it starts overflowing, rice grains are added to it. This dish is then served to people along with sweets like vadai, murukku and payasam. People also decorate their homes and draw rangoli patterns on the second day of the festival.

Mattu Pongal or the third day is dedicated to cows, who are considered the main source of wealth by Tamilians. Cows, decorated with bells, flowers and beads, are fed pongal dish, jaggery, honey, banana and other fruits. The annual bull-fight festival Jallikkattu is also celebrated on Mattu Pongal day in Tamil Nadu.

Kannum Pongal, or the final day of the festival marks the end of Pongal festivities in the South Indian state. It is a day dedicated to family reunions, and people exchange gifts while visiting their kin.