The festival of Makar Sankranti is usually celebrated on 14th January every year, but this time the auspicious time of this festival spans both 14th & 15th January. Celebrated in the month of Magh, this festival is also known as Magha mela & Maghi. This year, the Sun will enter into the Zodiac of Capricorn around 8’o clock in the night on the 14th of January and the auspicious time will be around the morning of 15th January on which day the rituals of bathing and donation will be observed.
While such transit of the Sun into Zodiacal constellations happen 12 times a year, it is Makar Sankranti that is considered very significant. Makar Sankranti is the time when crops are ready in the fields and we celebrate the harvesting of crops (and hence it is also known as the festival of crops). On the day of Sankranti, we express gratitude to all those that have helped us in cultivation. Traditionally, farm animals played (& still do even with the mechanisation of farming) a very important part of farming, hence a day of celebrations is dedicated in their honor too.
Going by the Gregorian calendar, Makar Sankranti is the first festival of the year. People in various parts of the country celebrate this festival by different names & for different durations. In Tamil Nadu, this festival is celebrated as Pongal and in Karnataka, Kerala, Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, it is called Sankranti. Let’s have a quick look at how this festival is celebrated in different parts of the country.
Poush Sankranti is celebrated in West Bengal with the practice of bathing early in the morning and donating sesame seeds. There is a huge mela (fair) every year at Gangasagar where millions of people (from Odihsa, Bihar, Jharkhand & Uttar Pradesh too) go for a holy dip in the Ganga & doing Ganga puja. Legend has it that it was here that Ganga (after being brought down to earth by Bhagiratha) merged with the Ocean after going through Kapil muni’s ashram.
Makar Shankranthi is celebrated over 4 days. A special sweet called Shankranti Yellu is prepared using jaggery, peanuts, roasted gram, sesame seeds and copra (dried meat of the coconut) and shared amongst relatives. The cattle is decorated too and a procession is taken out.
Haryana and Punjab
Lohri is celebrated in Haryana & Punjab a day before with sacrificial offerings to a bonfire of roasted maize grain, sesame, jaggery, rice, gajak and peanut. After this, people gather around and celebrate by doing Bhangra dance to the beat of drums. People exchange sweets with each other such as sesame laddus, gajak and rabdis.
Uttar Pradesh and Western Bihar
This festival is known as Khichdi in Uttar Pradesh and Western Bihar. This is primarily a festival of charity. On this day people donate urad, rice, chivda, sesame, cow, cloth, blanket etc.
This is celebrated over 3 days in Maharashtra where the practice is of sharing Tilgul (a mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery) with guests while saying ‘Tilgul ghya aani goad goad bola’; meaning ‘eat tilgul and speak sweetly’. This is a reference to making a new beginning while forgetting any old bitterness of the past.
This festival is celebrated by the name of Magh Bihu and Bhogali Bihu & is essentially considered a harvest festival. On the first day of this festival, people use bamboo & straw to make a temple like structure called Meji in Assamese and in the night sing Bihu songs & play drums. The next day people bathe before sunrise and burn the meji.
In Tamil Nadu, Makar Sakranti is celebrated as Thai Pongal (Pongal means ‘overflowing’ signifying abundance) for four days. On the first day of the festival, Bhogi, people collect old, unusable & unwanted items in the household and discard them in the garbage or burn them. On day two called Thai Pongal that coincides with the day of Sankranti, people let milk boil over and add grains & lentils to it to make a sweet called Pongal. On the third day, Mattoo-Pongal, the cattle is worshiped for the wealth they provide. On the fourth & last day called Kaanum-Pongal, relatives visit each other to spread the festive cheer.
Telengana & Andhra Pradesh
In Telengana & Andhra Pradesh, the first 3 days of celebrations and significance of each day is similar to Pongal celebrations in Tamil Nadu. The ritual of Bhogi Pallu is of particular interest to parents whereby small kids upto the age of 6 clad in traditional attire are showered with Indian jujube fruit (ber) called Regi Pallu in Telugu along with Bengal grams, rice, flowers, jaggery and sugarcane pieces. Bhogi Pallu is intended to bless the children with prosperity and long life and offer protection against evil eye.
No mention of Sankranti can be made without one of its prominent features i.e. of kids and adults alike enjoying the fun-filled activity of flying kites. We are sure that many of us participated in some way in this widespread activity of kite flying during Sankranti. What other activities, rituals, food that remind you of your time growing up during Sankranti? Please do share with us.