Pongal is the first festival which comes beginning of every new year. As the dates for this festival are calculated by the solar calendar (ie. Western), the dates of January 13-16 never change. Each day of this festival has a special significance, however, it is celebrated more grandly in the villages, while the city folk mainly celebrate on the second day only.
First Day - Bhogi :
The first day of the festival is called Bhogi . On Bhogi all people clean out their homes from top to bottom, and collect all unwanted goods. In the evening, people will light bonfires and burn what can be burnt.
Second Day - Surya Pongal :
The second day of the festival, Surya Pongal , is the day on which the celebrations actually begins, is the first day of the Tamil month Thai. On this day, Surya, the sun God is worshipped and women will wake early on this day to create elaborate Kolam (Rangoli) on the grounds in front of their doorway or home. Kolams are created with colored rice flour placed on the ground carefully by using one's hand. All people will wear their new dresses and use the new utensils or household items which replace the ones discarded the previous day. On this day the new rice is collected and cooked in pots until they over flow. It is this overflowing which means Pongal. This overflowing of rice is a joyous occasion, and the children and adults as well will shout out 'Pongal o Pongal! ' Children will dance and make music to the tune of these words. The rice is cooked and prepared as a dish called Pongal. This Pongal variety is called venpongal, ven meaning white. Another variety is also prepared with dal and jaggery (sweet) , called Shakkrai Pongal , shakkrai meaning sweet . To accompany the venpongal, people eat brinjal (eggplant) sambar (stew), vadai, idli, and spicy accompaniments.
Third Day - Matt Pongal :
The third day is called Matt Pongal , matt meaning cattle. This day is devoted to paying homage to cattle. Cows and Bulls are decorated with paint and bells and people pray to them. In fact, in my Pongal experience, the cattle were decorated with bells on their neck, and kum kum placed on their head, people pay respect to them by bending down, like praying in temple, and touching their feet and foreheads, followed by an aarthi (showing fire to the object of praise) and offering the cattle prasadam (food offering, in this case, pongal).. In some villages in south India, there are bull fights of varying types.
Fourth Day - Kanu Pongal :
The fourth day is termed as Kanu Pongal. On this day, people travel to see other family members. On this day, the younger members of the family pay homage to the elders, and the elders thank them by giving token money. Another thing many do is leave food out on banana leaves for birds to take. Even sisters keep leftover food of Matt Pongal to sparrow and crows. They put pudi in Banana leaves . While keeping the food on the leaves they say "Kaka Kurvi k' Kalyanam" and they server this food to the birds and pray for well beings for their brother(s).