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January 14, 2015

Maatu Pongal: Third Day of Tamil Harvest Festival in January

When is Maatu Pongal? 
2019: January 16, 2019
2020: January 16, 2019
2021: January 15, 2019

Do my colleagues in India get Maatu Pongal off?
Probably not. 

Maatu Pongal is the third of the four days of Pongal (first day - Bhogi, second day - Thai, third day - Maatu, and the fourth day - Kaanum). The second day is typically the day that is the main holiday (check your company's official holiday listing), colleagues with children may take off more days as children (and government employees) tend to have leave on all four Pongal days. And, in some cases, when Pongal falls on particular weekdays, the government may issue a notice allowing more days off to aid in families traveling to their native place for Pongal, as is the case in 2019. Read more here.  

What is Maatu Pongal and How is it Celebrated?
The third day of Pongal is called Maatu Pongal, maatu means cattle. This day is devoted to paying homage to cattle. This day is alternatively termed as Uzhavar Thirunal in pure Tamil. Uzhavar Thirunal translated from Tamil to English means auspicious (thiru) day (nal) for farmers (uzhavar). 

Photo: Sirensongs
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, and we (My friend, her family and I.) paid 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. These are not so common as they once were, I understand. 

Do Hindus eat beef, drink milk or use leather?
All Indians do not worship cows. Only Hindus revere the bovine in the way described above. While respecting the cow and bull are done by Hindus, not all Hindus are vegetarians. While vegetarianism is observed on most holidays (such as Pongal) and during most family functions (like weddings) by Hindus, many more Hindus are non-vegetarian meat eaters than foreigners may believe. While most vegetarians do not eat cow or bull meat, in select parts of India, some do eat buffalo, such as in Kerala, where beef fry is quite common. Many foreigners, especially Westerners may be surprised to hear that, but may also be surprised to know that even those Indian vegetarians that do not eat bovine, most likely will drink milk and eat milk products like butter, yogurt or cheese (Indian cheese is called paneer. Additionally, many Hindus may use leather products like leather belts, purses and wallets. If you are unsure, don't hesitate to ask your Indian client if leather products are acceptable. And, while most Indian Hindus are vegetarians, most will not mind others eating non-vegetarian during business meals. Again, if in doubt, don't hesitate to ask.

Read about Pongal Celebrations, Day 1 - Bhogi
Read about Pongal Celebrations, Day 2 - Thai Pongal
Upcoming: Fourth and final day: Kaanum Pongal

Jennifer Kumar, author of this blog, is the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys. We provide cross-cultural training for India - US virtual teams. Jennifer has lived in Chennai for 2.5 years and in Kochi, India for 6.5 years. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. See our 2017-2018 client project portfolio. Or, to build your teams, check out our India Cross Cultural Training Program or US Cross-Culture Program for Virtual Teams in India.

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.