Makar Sankranti(effectively harvest festival in the UK) is one of the most auspicious days for Hindus and is celebrated in almost all parts of India on 15th January (although on 14th January in our complex). Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti literally means movement. It traditionally coincides with the beginning of the sun’s northward journey when it enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn.
Makar Sankranti is a festival dedicated to the sun, which coincides with the completion of the harvest season and is celebrated with much gusto.There is a party in the complex, a ‘MoMo’ stall (delicious Chinese style dumplings) run by Anu, one of our lovely neighbours, and Zahra has had two party invites. We will miss all the celebrations as we will be in Hampi.
Makar Shakranti isalso one of the very few Hindu festivals which are celebrated on the same day every year, as it’s a festival that is based on the movement of the sun. There are many ways in which the festival is celebrated across the country.
North India – Kumbh Mela & Lohri
In Northern India, Makar Sankranti is celebrated by people taking a holy dip in the Ganga (sacred river). People believe that taking a dip in Ganga on this day cleanses the soul from all sins. It is also celebrated as Lohri by the Sikh community in Punjab and Haryana. Lohri is celebrated one day before Makar Sankranti. The end of a bitter winter is marked with the burning of huge bonfires in which handfuls of Til (sesame) sweets, rice and sugarcane are thrown to thank the god of fire for good crops.
Central & South India – Karnataka
In Karnataka (where we live in Bangalore), the festival is marked by visiting friends and relatives to exchange good wishes and by the preparation of a dish called Ellu (made mainly with sesame seeds, coconut, sugar). A common custom across Karnataka is the exchange of pieces of sugarcane and Ellu with neighbours, friends and relatives. They greet each other with the words “Ellu bella thindu, Olle Maathu Aadu”, which translates to “Eat sesame seeds and jaggery, and say good things”. This is a reminder to everyone that sweetness should prevail in all exchanges.
In Gujarat, it is known as Uttarayan and celebrated by flying beautiful kites.
In Hindu temples bells, drums, clarinets and conch shells herald the joyous occasion of Pongal. To symbolize a bountiful harvest, rice is cooked in new pots until they boil over. Some of the rituals performed in the temple include the preparation of rice, the chanting of prayers and the offering of vegetables, sugar cane and spices to the gods. Devotees then consume the offerings to exonerate themselves of past sins.
Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving farmers a break from their monotonous routine. Farmers also perform puja to some crops, signaling the end of the traditional farming season. It also sets the pace for a series of festivals to follow in a calendar year. In fact, four festivals are celebrated in Tamil Nadu for four consecutive days in that week. ‘Bogi’ is celebrated on January 13, ‘Pongal’ on Jan 14, ‘Maattuppongal’ on Jan 15, and ‘Thiruvalluvar Day’ on Jan 16.
The festival is celebrated for four days. On, the first day, Bhogi, the old clothes and materials are thrown away and fired, marking the beginning of a new life. The second day, the Pongal day, is celebrated by boiling fresh milk early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel – a tradition that is the literal translation for Pongal. People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each other’s homes, and exchange greetings. The third day, Mattu Pongal, is meant to offer thanks to the cows and buffaloes, as they are used to plough the lands. On the last day, Kanum Pongal, people go out to picnic.
A festival called Jalli kathu is held in Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur,all in Tamil Nadu, on this day. Bundles of money are tied to the horns of Pongal 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 Tamilian Tirunal in a fitting manner through out Tamil Nadu.
Thus, the harvest festival of Pongal symbolizes the veneration of the first fruit. The crop is harvested only after a certain time of the year, and cutting the crop before that time is strictly prohibited. Even though Pongal was originally a festival for the farming community, today it is celebrated by all. In south India, all three days of Pongal are considered important. However, those south Indians who have settled in the north usually celebrate only the second day. Coinciding with Makara Sankranti and Lohri of the north, it is also called Pongal Sankranti.
In Andhra Pradesh, it is celebrated as Bhogi Pandigai, Pedda Panduga, Kanuma Panduga and Mukkanuma (check out Wiki for details!)
In Kerala, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Makaravilakku. The famous Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple celebrations take place on Makar Sankranti in the evening at Sabarimala Hills. Laddu of Til (sesame seeds) made with Jaggery is the festivals speciality food.
The festival of Makara Sankranti also honours and pays respect to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge.