The third day of Pongal is dedicated to cattle and is called Mattu Pongal. People offer prayers to the bulls, cows and other farm animals. Cows and bulls have always held a special place in India. Cows give nourishing milk while bulls and oxen help plough the fields. Thus, Maatu Pongal is a day when cattle are given a well deserved day of rest and are given pride of place. Therefore the farmers honor their cattle friends by celebrating it as a day of thanks-giving to them.
On this day, Lord Ganesh and Goddess Parvati are worshiped and Pongal is offered to them in the 'puja'. According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food. Thus the association of this day with cattle.
The cattle are washed, their horns are painted and covered with shining metal caps. Multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands are tied around their necks. They are fed with Pongal and taken to the village centres. Devotees pay their respect to cows 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).
A festival called Jallikattu is held in Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur on this day. Bundles of money are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls which the villagers try to retrieve. Everyone joins in the community meal, at which the food is made of the freshly harvested grain. This day is named and celebrated as Tamizhar Tirunal in a fitting manner throughout Tamil Nadu.