Pongal is celebrated mostly in South India over four days, by farmers who give thanks to 'Surya', the Sun God and giver of life, for the blessings of a rich harvest.
And this is precisely what thousands of Hindu families all around Singapore do, turning their homes into enclaves of warm golden light even as they offer prayers, exchange gifts and share sweetmeats with each other.
In Singapore, Pongal is celebrated on the commencement of the auspicious month of Thai. On the first day, 'Bhogi Pongal', celebrations begin with worship of Lord Indra, the Ruler of Clouds and Giver of Rains. Thorough spring-cleaning as well as the discarding of old belongings is carried out to signify a fresh start.
Oil lamps are lit, new clothes are donned and colourful designs in rice flour are created on the floors of houses.
On the second day, 'Surya Pongal', the Sun God is honoured. Every household cooks a pot of rice with milk to offer up to Surya at dawn.
Pongal means to ‘overflow’, hence the pot of rice has to bubble over to symbolise prosperity and abundance. This is then served to members of the family as well as any visitors to the house. It is a very social period, as relatives and friends visit each other and exchange greetings.
The third day, called 'Mattu Pongal', is set aside to honour cattle – cows are sacred animals in the Hindu religion.
To remember the work they do, like ploughing the fields and providing milk, the cattle are scrubbed and their horns painted. Multi-coloured beads, tinkling bells and flower garlands are placed around their necks and they are fed special snacks as a treat.