Makar Sankranti or Pongal is the harvest festival celebration. It is one of the most auspicious days for Hindus and is celebrated in almost all parts of India on 14th and 15th January this year.
What is it?
Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti 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 joy – usually.
What does 2017 look like?
This year in Karnataka state looks like a gloomy one for farmers as they have had a terrible season with crop losses due to low rainfall. Compounding this is the lack of money in circulation due to demonetisation meaning people simply aren’t buying as they did before. As a consequence of this, and other factors, prices have dropped dramatically increasing farmers misery further. For example, the price of tomatoes has dropped 84% and onions by 70%. Lemons can now be bought by locals for 1 rupee (although as a westerner I was charged 20 rupees for four lemons. Still incredibly cheap but an example of the price differential we have to pay).
Tamil Nadu state has declared a drought following the poor rainfall in the north east monsoon. Desperate farmers have started to commit suicide, particularly along the Cauvery river rice belt which is dependent upon the release of water from the Karnataka state. (Rice cultivation is water intensive.) The declaration of drought means that land tax is waived and loan recoveries are postponed. This will bring some relief to the farmers.
Pongal is the three day long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated in honour of the rain god Indra as well as the sun god and the holy cow. ‘Bhogi Pongal’ is the first day of Pongal and the lord Indra is worshipped. Sisters also pray for the welfare of their brothers. On the second day the sun god is worshipped for imparting heat and energy to the fields. The third day is Mattul Pongal and cattle is worshipped. A portion of pudding is kept aside in the open to feed birds and insects. A special dish called Pongal is prepared by ladies to commemorate the festival.
Jallikatu is a bullfight organised by every town and village on the third and last day of Pongal. This ‘game’ is traditionally ‘played’ by young men who try to grab the money tied to the horns of the bull. It is a centuries old tradition which is meant to tame the bull.
Since 2014 this activity has been banned by the Supreme Court citing it as an act of “inherent cruelty “. Tamil Nadu state has appealed this decision but the appeal was dismissed on 16th November 2016 stating that the very act of taming a bull was counter to the concept of welfare of the animal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960. The Government has now issued a notification allowing the bull taming “sport” but the Supreme Court has not been hurried into making a judgment on it before this weekend’s celebrations. As a consequence the ban remains in force and is causing much consternation.