India is soaked in Sankranti festival spirit as lakhs and lakhs of people celebrate the festivities playing or watching their favorite games like rummy, jallikattu, cock fight, tagaru kalaga, kite flying and attractive cultural events.
Sankranti is a harvest festival and people freak out to celebrate in their own way. Every region in India celebrates the festival, which also marks the change of season. But the festive spirit remains the same with people preparing variety of sweets. Invariably, sesame seeds and jaggery are used in dishes made on the occasion. The consumption of sesame and jaggery are beneficial to the people during the change of season.
Makara Sankranti marks the transition of Sun into zodiac sign of Makara rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. From now on, the day time will be longer. In the coming six months, called the Uttarayana period, the days will not only be longer but also warmer.
As Makara Sankranti is a solar event, it is generally celebrated on January 14 in the Gregorian Calendar. In some years, the festival is observed either on January 13 or January 15. This day marking the spring season arrival in India is an auspicious day for Indians.
For believers, the whole period is considered an auspicious time. From time immemorial, people consider Makara Sankranti is important and they take dip holy rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna and Cavuery. Braving chilly weather, people take dip in the rivers as they consider that the ritual would wash away their sins. It is also believed that if you die during Makara Sankranti, you are not reborn but go directly to heaven.
Lakhs of devotees visit Sabarimala Temple in Kerala to have a darshan of Makara Jyoti at Ayyappa temple. Despite controversies surrounding the visit to the temple by menustrating age women, a large number of devotees had darshan of Lord Ayyappa.
This year around, Ardh Kumbh Mela began in Allahabad, now called Prayagraj. Kumbh Mela is considered to be world’s largest human gathering.
Courts have taken strong view that fights involving birds and animals are illegal and the authorities are on their toes to stop them. Many well-informed and educated people have started gravitating towards online rummy as it is legal and safe. Rummy gives them the kick they are looking for to mark the festival spirit. Playing games is part of the celebrations and even elders join them in playing rummy. India has been having a tradition of people playing rummy during festivals and marriages. During the festival, friends and relatives play rummy games and make some money. Even women will not shy away from playing rummy during the festival. The game of rummy provides them a forum for exchanging information and developments in the last few months. Now technology has made it easier and smart phones and data connectivity have ensured that they can know how to play rummy anywhere without physical cards. Adda52rummy offered an excellent platform and a lot of prize pool for them to play and earn good money besides the real kick of playing online rummy. Prize pool on adda52rummy has been growing steadily and the website offers challenging tournaments for the occasion. This month alone, it has put on table nearly Rs 35 lakh for rummy lovers. Players have a variety of choices of Rummy on the website, which is very safe and secure for transaction.
Pongal and Sankranti
In Tamil, Pongal means to boil and Ponga means ‘overflowing’, which indicate abundance and prosperity. Preparation of Pongal, a popular dish, is a must during the festival. The two most popular varieties of Pongal are Venn Pongal and Chakkara or Shakarai Pongal. Pongal is a savoury rice dish, while Chakkara Pongal is more popular and important sweet dish. Chakkarai Pongal is served as prasadam (sacred offerings of food) in temples during the Pongal festival. Its ingredients include rice, moong dal, coconut and jaggery or sugar.
The festival is a big occasion in Karnataka and twin Telugu- speaking states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. A variety of dishes are prepared for the grand lunch.
Lohri is a harvest festival observed in Punjab the night before Makara Sankranti. Lohri is celebrated to mark the beginning of the winter crop season. People collect logs of woods and make a bonfire. Friends, relatives and
loved ones dance around it to popular Panjabi songs. They also throw peanuts, popcorn, sweets and revari into the holy fire. Punjabis believe that the ritual would please the deity of fire. They also pray for a bountiful harvest as Lohri
marking the end of the winter season and the beginning of a new harvest season.
Taking bath in a river in the early hours on Maghi is an important practice. Hindus light lamps with sesame oil in the
belief that it brings prosperity and drives away all sins. A major mela is held at Sri Muktsar Sahib to commemorate a historical event in Sikh history.
In Delhi and Haryana and many neighboring northern states, Churma of ghee, halwa and kheer are prepared for the festival. At least one brother of every married woman visits her home with some warm clothing for her family, called
“Sidha”. Women perform ritual Known as “Manana” where they offer gifts to elders and inlaws. Women sing folk songs while giving gifts.
Major cities in Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, will be at their best during this part of the year and sky will be dotted with thousands of kites of different shapes and sizes and color. It is a feast to the eyes. Gujarat has been marketing its kite festival aggressively and thousands of people compete in the celebrity event. It is more known for its kite festival than the Uttarayan festival celebration. In Gujarat, people prepare special festival recipes.
The atmosphere is wonderfully festive, as whole families gather on the rooftop with special foods like Undhiyu (spicy, baked mix of winter vegetables) and chikkis (made from sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery). People indulge in gossip and make friendships and recall what had happened in the previous years. At night, kite fighters send up bright white kites and some flyers will send aloft their tukkals with strings of brightly lit lanterns in a long line leading back down to the rooftop.
The main competition is to battle nearby kite-flyers to cut their strings and bring them down. People scout for good kite makers to ensure that they get the best quality and that can withstand the rigors of competition. It is a common sight on the streets of Ahmedabad where people are busy making all kinds of kites. There is Patang Bazaar, the special kite market in the old city. It remains open throughout for a week before the festivities.
In Maharashtra and Goa, people exchange multi-colored halwa (sugar granules coated in sugar syrup) and til-gul laadoo (sweetmeats made from sesame seeds and jaggery).
In most parts of Assam, Bihu festival is celebrated with pomp and gaiety. Dance, music forms integral part of the
celebration. Magh Bihu, which is observed during January, is also called Bhogali Bihu as it is a harvest festival. During Magh Bihu, people make cakes of rice with various names such as Shunga Pitha and Til Pitha etc. and some
other sweets of coconut called Laru. The festival is marked by feasts and bonfires like in other parts of the country. People erect makeshift huts, called meji, from bamboo, leaves and thatch, where they have a feast, and burn the huts in next day.
In Odisha, home to famous Sun Temple in Konark, people prepare uncooked newly harvested rice or makara chaula with coconut and banana, sesame, jaggery, rasagolla and chhena puddings as offering to gods.
In West Bengal, Sankranti is known as Poush Sankranti. Bengalis use harvested paddy and date palm syrup to make a variety of traditional Bengali sweets. For preparation of sweets, they use rice flour, coconut, milk and date palm jaggery. During Sankranti, Bengalis worship Goddess Lakshmi.
In Rajasthan, it is celebrated with special Rajasthani sweets and delicacies such as til-paati, pheeni, ghevar, gajak, kheer, pakodi, til-laddoo and puwa. Specially, women give some things as gifts to 13 married women. The maiden
Sankranti for a married couple is important as they are invited by woman’s parents and brothers to their houses for a big feast.
On this day, the sky in Jaipur and Hadoti regions is filled with kites. Youngsters vie with each other to cut the strings
of other kites.
In Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, people take ceremonial dips and shower in the springs or baolis early in the
morning. In the daytime people visit their neighbors and together enjoy khichdi and chaas given as charity in temples. Festival culminates with singing and Naati (folk dance).
In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the celebrations are slightly different. People offer Khichdi which is mixture of rice and pulses, take ceremonial dips in holy rivers, participate in the Uttarayani fairs and celebrate the festival of Ghughutia or Kale Kauva (black crow). People make deep fried sweets from flour and jaggery in various shapes like knives, pomegranates and swords. They make them into a necklace with orange in the centre. Children wear them and sing “Kale Kauva” and offer sweets to birds as a token of welcome for birds returning home.
In Uttar Pradesh the festival is known as Kicheri. People fast and then they eat sweets such as til ladoo and gud laddo
(known as tillava in Bhojpuri). Wearing of new clothes is a custom in some places. Kite flying is part of the festival.
In Bihar and Jharkhand, the delicacies include chura, gur, sweets made of sesame seeds such as tilgul, tilwa, maska, etc., curd, milk and seasonal vegetables. Kite flying festivals are also organized on small scale.
People put sesame seeds into fire followed by eating “dahi-chuda”, a dish made of beaten rice served with a curds, with cooked red pumpkin. They use only sugar and salt for making kohada.
Tilkut and lai (laddu made of til, chuda and rice) are served along with the meal. A special khichdi is prepared and served with chokha (roasted vegetable), papad, ghee and achaar at night.
The festival is also known as Khichdi. Locally as khichdi is a must preparation during this festival.
Our sculptors were great mathematicians and had studied astrology and astronomy very well. There are many temples in India where sun rays fall on the deity only on a particular day in a year. This happens year after year. One such temple is Gavi Gangadareswara temple in Gavipuram Guttahalli in Bengaluru. On Makara Sankranti day, sun bathes the Shivalingam inside the temple.
For women, it is an opportunity to showcase their best dress and make-up. Makara Sankranti is the festival of til-gul where sesame and jaggery laddoos or chikkis are distributed among all. Tastefully dressed women and children go to their neighbors’ houses and exchange a mixture of sesame, jaggery and peanuts packed in attractive boxes and sugar cane and sometimes small gifts also. The purpose of exchanging sesame and jaggery is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends.
Like most festivals, this also has an association to the glory past of India. The period finds a mention in Indian epic Mahabharata as Bhishma chose to die when the Uttarayan period began.
Another story says that Lord Shiva directed his bull Nandi to go to Earth and tell people to have an oil massage and bathe every day and have a meal once a month. But Nandi instead announced that everyone should have an oil bath once a month and eat every day! An enraged Lord Shiva banished Nandi and cursed him to live on Earth forever. Nandi spends his days helping farmers in their duties. Hence, cattle have special significance during the festival.
Sesame and Jaggery in Sankranti
India is known for its festivals and their celebrations are associated with various seasons. Each one has its own significance and even the preparations for them also have their importance.
Our food practices evolved over the years are region-specific and are prepared depending on the weather conditions. Even westerners and scientists have started realizing that the practices have a scientific basis and were not randomly promoted.
Makara Sankranti is no exception. During the period, the weather is extremely cold. According to Ayurveda, the digestive fire in the body is very well kindled. Vata dosha is predominant in the nature. Because of cold conditions, the body demands for some heat and oleation and skin and hair appear dull and dry. Ellu-bella (preparation made of sesame, jaggery, dry coconut and peanuts) and Gulachi poli (a flat wheat bread or roti stuffed with jaggery, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts) are served during the festival time. Ayurveda treats sesame and jaggery as two of the most winter-perfect foods as they help to keep the body warm. At the same time, they also increase the immunity. The oil in sesame seeds helps generate body heat and prevents the internal body temperature from dipping. Jaggery’s iron and vitamin C content help in dealing with respiratory disorders and throat problems.
This argument sounds bizarre but plausible. People fly kites during the festival. This increases the social bonding and love (sneha), which reduces vata in the body and hard feelings among people and they stay connected and spread happiness.
Sports, fun, frolic
Besides, religious events, sports and fun and frolic mark the festival. During the festival, jallikattu or bull-taming is organized in several parts of Tamil Nadu and in some places in Karnataka. It has been a controversial event and has been locked in a legal battle. While proponents of the game call it as a sport, animal lovers term it as a cruelty on animals. But one thing is certain that people participate in huge numbers despite deaths reported during the event.
In Karnataka, farmers deck up their cattle and make them jump over bonfire. It is called kicchu haaisuvudu. Farmers put in their best to make their loved cattle look attractive. It is a hair-raising experience as cattle jump over bonfire with their owner in tow.
In tagaru kalaga (fight between sheep), well-trained rams battle out to win the event. No lesser event is cock-fight. They are illegal but have a large fan following. People gather in good numbers in countryside and watch the fight in the middle with a baited breath. It is said that crores of rupees are wagered on the occasion. Some big people also take interest and patronize the events. All happens in the name of festive spirit.
Bulls, cattle, rams and cocks are specially trained for months together and their owners put in a lot of hard work to train them.
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