Pongal Festival celebrated by agrarian communities does not end with making tasty pongal, worship and sharing pongal greetings and wishes. Several Indian farming communities also have a small dairy with anywhere between one and ten cows (sometime even more) and bulls. These rural dwellers observe the day after Pongal Festival as Maatu (cow in Tamil language) Pongal to honor cows and bulls which provide them with a steady stream of income all through the year.
For this special occasion, cows and bulls are bathed and groomed in the early hours of the morning in a common village water body /temple tank. A special rangoli is created for the day with aloe vera stuck into a heap of cow dung. Five holes are made in the dung to be filled with milk, cottonseed extract, gooseberry pulp, turmeric paste and pongal prepared on the day. A square is drawn around this using brick powder and a basket covers the dung. Other rangoli patterns are drawn using rice powder or color powder beyond the square. It is a tradition for cows and bulls along with the members of the household to cross over this arrangement (after removing the basket).
Pongal prepared on this day is fed to the cows and bulls and their mouths washed with water. Several customary worship rituals accompany the celebration. Cows and bulls are taken around the town and their heads washed in the village water body with gingili oil, gooseberry pulp and soap nut powder (shikakai) accompanied by the Pongal chant, ‘Pongal o Pongal’.
The following day cows’ and bulls' horns are painted with bright colors and tiny bells attached to their horns or in a string around their neck. Floral garlands adorn the animals’ necks and Kum Kum (vermillion) and turmeric decorate their heads. At times multicolored blankets are placed on bulls’ back.
Some dairy farmers use the occasion to collect money from their customers and so lead their decked up cows from house to house.
Another traditional practice that highlights the day is Jalli kattu - Indian Bull Taming Sport. Bulls are reared to take part in this sport where young men of the village are given a reward if they manage to tame wild bulls. The sport ends with several causalities and even deaths, yet continues to be a very much sought after event that takes place year after year.
Cows always have a special place in Indian Culture where they are considered sacred and gentle animals that deserve protection. Maatu Pongal is one day when these animals are pampered with festivities and get the appreciation they certainly deserve for being a means of livelihood for rural communities.
Here is a book that details the traditions of Pongal Festival.
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