Maattu Pongal is the third day of the four-day Pongal festival. According to the Gregorian calendar it is normally celebrated on January 15 but sometimes it is celebrated on January 16. In Tamil Calendar, this corresponds to second day of the Tamil month Thai.

Though the name of the festival is specific to Tamil Nadu, in India, it is also celebrated in other southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Makar Sankranti is a festival that marks the start of northern declination (called Uttarayana in Sanskrit) of the Sun from the Zodiaca sign of Sagittarius (Sanskrit name: Dhanurmas) to Capricorn (Sanskrit: Makara), which according to Hindu calendar usually falls on 14 January.In Tamil, the word “Mattu” means bull and this day of Pongal is for celebration of the cattle, particularly bulls that play a vital role by working hard to help the farmers to raise crops on their fields, falls on the following day, 15 January. The festival is also observed by ethnic Tamil population of Sri Lanka.

Mattu Pongal is made up of two words; ‘Mattu’ in Tamil means “bull”. Pongal, also in Tamil Language, literally means “boiled rice” (a rice and lentil dish) but metaphorically means prosperity.The Pongal festival also represents celebration of “fertility and renewal” and is observed either for three days or four-days, after the end of the monsoon season and rice (paddy) crop is harvested.According to a legend linked to Mattu Pongal, god Shiva sent his bull Nandi (mount of Shiva and his gate keeper) from heaven to the earth to give his message to people that they should have an oil bath every day and eat once a month. Instead, Nandi wrongly advised people to take an oil bath once a month and eat every day. Shiva was annoyed with this advice related to food and in fit of rage, banished Nandi to permanently live on earth and help the farmers to produce the extra food crops needed for people to eat every day.