Sankranti, Pongal, Bihu, Lohri, Uttarayan are different names for the celebration of one unique celestial event when the Sun begins its Northward journey from the Tropic of Capricorn towards the Tropic of Cancer on the 14th of January. Some texts refer to the next 6 months when the sun is moving northward as day time for the divine entities and they will come to our rescue faster. It is also known as Makar Sankranti since the Sun is now moving into the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makar) from Saggitarius (Dhanu). In India, this is the only festival related to the Sun while the others are some way or the other connected with the Moon. Often it has been debated why it is celebrated in mid January when the Winter Solstice is somewhere around the end of December. As a layman, I attribute it to the slight tilt in the earth’s axis and leave the accurate reasoning to the more knowledgeable.
With our roots in agriculture, it was celebrated as a farmer’s festival across the country laced with local produce and customs. Offering sesame seeds (til) in some form or the other seems to be a common theme in every state, since it has a greater capacity to absorb and emit Sattva frequencies. Ater a long harsh winter, when our physical bodies have built up some amount of toxicity, the sesame(til) preparations will assist in balancing it. All our festivals are in appreciation and gratitude for nature and with all the bonfires, offerings, prayers to the sun in the sky can water be left behind. It is considered extremely auspicious to take a dip in the river and Kumbh Snan at the confluence of rivers Ganga and Yamuna in Allahabad is the most important point.
Up in the hills, it ushers the time for the migratory birds to slowly return home. In Uttarakhand, Himachal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it is the time for having the special “Khichdi” made from newly harvested rice, pulses, seasonal vegetables, generously cooked in dollops of ghee and end it with sweets made with til (sesame). All roads lead to Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh for the Kumbh Snan on this day.
Back to the plains Punjab celebrates Lohri with community bonfires, wherein peanuts, jaggery and sesame savouries gajak and rewri are offered. Everyone gathers together to sway to the tunes of “Sundri Mundriye Ho, Tera kaun Vichara Ho, Dulla Bhatti wala Ho” sung in praise of Dulla Bhatti, a local Punjabi Robin Hood who protected the farmers around the community bonfires
In the eastern states of Orissa, Assam and Bengal, it is of celebration with the newly harvested rice and prayers to the Sun for extending its loving warmth in the months to come and to be spared from the harsh heat. “Pitha” is made from the newly harvested rice, mixed with coconut, jaggery, milk in all three states, the taste of which varies but the sweetness and love remains the same.
In Assam it is Bhogali Bihu, with dancing and bonfires in Mejis (makeshift huts constructed with hay, twigs etc), in Bengal it is of different kinds of “Pithas” made with palm jaggery and a dip in Ganga Sagar, the point where river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal and in Orissa it is preparation of “Makar Chaula”( uncooked rice with coconut, banana, jaggery, sesame etc) and prayers to the Sun God.
Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh celebrate it as Pongal over 4 days. Pongal is the traditional dish cooked with newly harvested rice and jaggery or rice and pulses at the time of sunrise, ushering in the new and everything auspicious. In Karnataka, it is time for “Ellu Bella” (mix of sesame, fried peanuts, jaggery, dried coconut) and sugarcane. Pujas are performed at homes and Ellu Bella is exchanged with friends and relatives to spread love and goodwill. In Kerala it is the culmination of the month long journey of the devout to Sabarimala with the sighting of the Makara Jyoti to burn all ills and usher in joy and happiness. It is perhaps the only state where the celebrations are comparatively low key in comparison to the rest of the country.
The sky above Gujarat is colourful and light with kite flying competitions and “Kay Po Che” reverberating through the air. Kite is light and flies high, after a long harsh winter it is our turn to feel the same in every aspect of life. The spicy Undhiyu and the sweet Chikki are the delicious savouries for the occasion. In nearby Maharashtra, sweetmeats made of Til (Sesame) are exchanged as a token of goodwill. A little up north, Rajasthan celebrates it with Kite flying and a special meal called Sakrat Bhoj complete with traditional sweets like Ghajak, Ghevar and Tilpati.
I have had a little bit of everything, pitha’s from my home state Bengal, Ellu Bella from my adoptive home in Karnataka, Pongal from my friends and the warmth of Lohri from my Punjabi neighbours. As I looked up to the sun this morning, in the hope of absorbing its celestial warmth, along with the Gayatri Mantra chants, I also intended for abundance in every farmers’ home. A happy farmer produces happy grains which in turn spreads happiness in every home it makes its way to !!!