Makar Sankranti, a harvest festival, is celebrated across the country in different ways. The cultural significance of the festival varies geographically as we move from one state to another, with every state celebrating and welcoming the new season of harvest in own manner.
What makes the festival stand apart from the other Indian Hindu Festivals is the fact that the date of Makar Sankranti is fixed. Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti is transition. Actually there is a Sankranti every month when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. The popular Indian festival “Makar Sankranti” is the first Indian festival falls in New Year.
It is one of the major Indian harvest festivals celebrated on 14th of January of every year. It is an important festival for the Hindus and celebrated almost everywhere in the country in myriad cultural forms and under different names.
Rajasthan and West Madhya Pradesh
“Makar Sankrati” or “Sankrat” is one of the major festivals in the state of Rajasthan. The day is celebrated with special Rajasthani delicacies and sweets such as pheeni (either with sweet milk or sugar syrup dipped), til-paati, gajak, kheer, ghevar, pakodi, puwa, and til-laddoo.
The women of this region observe a ritual in which they give any type of object (related to household, make-up or food) to 13 married women as a gift. People give out several small gifts such as til-gud (jaggery), fruits, dry khichadi, etc. to Brahmins or the needy ones.
Kite flying is traditionally observed as a part of this festival.
In Maharashtra on Makara Sankranti (मकर संक्रान्ति) day people exchange multicoloured halwa (sugar granules coated in sugar syrup) and til-gul laadoo (sweetmeats made from sesame seeds and jaggery). Gulachi poli/puran poli (गुळाची पोळी / पुरण पोळी) (flat bread stuffed with soft/shredded jaggery mixed with toasted, ground til [white sesame seeds]) and some gram flour, which has been toasted to golden in pure ghee, are offered for lunch. While exchanging til-gul as tokens of goodwill people greet each other with the words “तिळगुळ घ्या, आणि गोड-गोड बोला / til-gul ghyaa, aani goad-goad bolaa” meaning ‘Accept this til-gul (sweet) and utter sweet words’. The underlying thought in the exchange of til-gul is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends.
The importance of sesame seeds is it keeps body warm and provide good oil, which is needed as winter dried up the moisture from body. In Maharashtra, similar to Andhra Pradesh Makar Sankaranti, is normally a three-day festival.
Uttarayan, as Makara Sankranti is called in Gujarati, is a major festival in the state of Gujarat which lasts for two days. 14 January is Uttarayan and 15 January is Basi-Uttarayan (Stale Uttarayan). Gujarati people keenly await this festival to fly kites, called ‘patang’. Kites for Uttarayan are made of special light-weight paper and bamboo and are mostly rhombus shaped with central spine and a single bow.
In Gujarat, from December through to Makara Sankranti, people start enjoying Uttarayan. Undhiyu (spicy, baked mix of winter vegetables) and chikkis (made from til (sesame seeds), peanuts and jaggery) are the special festival recipes savoured on this day.
Skies appear filled with thousands upon thousands of kites as people enjoy two full days of Uttarayan on their terraces. When people cut any kites they yell words like “kaypo chhe”, “e lapet”, “phirki vet phirki” and “lapet lapet” in Gujarati.
Delhi and Haryana
Delhi and Haryana and many neighbouring states consider Sakraat or Sankranti to be a main festival of the year.
Churma of ghee, halwa and kheer are cooked specially on this day. The brother of every married woman visits her home with a gift of some warm clothing for her and her husband’s family. It is called “Sidha”. Women used to give a gift to their in-laws, and this ritual is called “Manana”. In older days, the recipient used to sit in a haweli (main palace where men sit together and share hookah) while the women went about singing folk songs and give gifts.
In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Maghi. Bathing in a river in the early hours on Maghi is important. A major mela is held at Sri Muktsar Sahib on Maghi which commemorates a historical event in Sikh history.
Culturally, people dance their famous “bhangra”. It is traditional to eat “kheer”, rice cooked in milk and sugarcane juice. It is also traditional to consume khichdi and jaggery December and January are the coldest months of the year in the Punjab. Maghi represents the change of the season to warmer temperatures and increase in daylight.
In West Bengal, Sankranti, also known as Poush Sankranti named after the Bengali month in which it falls, is celebrated as a harvest festival Poush Parbon (It falls on 14 January on the Western calendar.) The freshly harvested paddy and the date palm syrup in the form of Khejurer Gur and Patali is used in the preparation of a variety of traditional Bengali sweets made with rice flour, coconut, milk and ‘khejurer gur’ (date palm jaggery) and known as ‘Pitha’ . All sections of society participate in a three-day festival that begins on the day before Sankranti and ends on the day after.
The Goddess Lakshmi is usually worshipped on the day of Sankranti.
Millions of people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar (the point where the river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal).
Bihar and Jharkhand
In Bihar and Jharkhand, the festival is celebrated on 14–15 January. On 14 January, it is celebrated as Makar Sankranti or Sakraat or Khichdi (in local dialects). As in other parts of country, people take baths in rivers and ponds and feast upon seasonal delicacies as a celebration of good harvest. The delicacies include chura, gur (jaggery), sweets made of til (sesame seeds) such as tilgul, tilwa, maska, etc., curd, milk and seasonal vegetables. Kite flying festivals are organised, albeit on a small scale.
The meal is generally accompanied by tilkut and lai (laddu made of til, chuda and rice). The festive meal is traditionally made by women in groups. Since the meal is heavy, lunch is generally skipped on the day and the time is spent on socializing and participating in kite flying festivals.
At night a special khichdi is made and served with its four traditional companions, “char yaar” (four friends) — chokha (roasted vegetable), papad, ghee and achaar.
This is the Suggi or harvest festival for farmers of Karnataka. On this auspicious day, girls wear new clothes to visit near and dear ones with a Sankranti offering in a plate and exchange the same with other families. This ritual is called “Ellu Birodhu.” Here the plate would normally contain “Ellu” (white sesame seeds) mixed with fried groundnuts, neatly cut dry coconut and fine cut bella (jaggery). The mixture is called “Ellu-Bella”. The plate contains shaped sugar candy moulds with a piece of sugarcane. There is a saying in Kannada “ellu bella thindu olle maathadi” that synonymous to ‘eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good.’ This festival signifies the harvest of the season, since sugarcane is predominant in these parts.
An important ritual is display of cows and bulls in colourful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession. They are also made to cross a fire. This ritual is common in rural Karnataka and is called “Kichchu Haayisuvudu.”
Pongal is a harvest festival dedicated to the Sun God. It is a four day festival. The day marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttaraayanam).
The day preceding Pongal is called Bhogi. On this day people discard old belongings and celebrate new possessions. The main event, also known as Thai Pongal, takes place on the second of the four days. On this day, milk is cooked in a traditional pot made either of clay or metal. When it starts to bubble and overflows out of the vessel, freshly harvested rice grains are added to the pot. Family members gather around, blow a conch called the sanggu and shout “Pongalo Pongal!”
Maatu Pongal is celebrated the day after Thai Pongal. On this day, cattle are recognized for their importance to a farmer and worshipped. Features of the day include games such as the Jallikkattu.
Kaanum Pongal, the fourth day of the festival, marks the end of Pongal festivities for the year. Brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as and promise them protection.
Sankranti, in any name, is a time for being grateful to nature for all her bounty. It is a time for friends and family and the celebration of life in all its positive glory.
We wish you all a very happy Sankranti.