Often referred to as the ‘Land of Festivals’, India will never fail to amaze you with her abundant festive spirit and intricate rituals. One such festival is Makar Sankranti – a day ushering in a new agricultural season and a harbinger of a new year of prosperity. One of the few festivals not bound religion or local culture, Sankranti is celebrated across the country with great fervour, among the rich and poor, the old and young, across caste and creed. It is also one of the few Indian festivals which occur on the same Gregorian calendar date every year.
Makar Sankranti goes by different names in different parts of the country, representing our nation’s inherent ideology – ‘unity in diversity’. While Sankranti is a general term used to refer to the festival across India, it is known as Lohri in Punjab, Maghi in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, Shishur Saenkraat in Jammu and Kashmir, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu in Assam, Khichdi Parv in Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, Makara Sankramana in Karnataka an Uttarayan in Gujarat. Not just in India, Sankranti is also popular in Nepal where it is called Maghe Sankranti and in South-East Asia – being referred to as Songkran in Thailand, Pi Ma Lao in Laos, Moha Sangkran in Cambodia, Thingyan in Myanmar Pongal or Uzhavar Thirunal in Sri Lanka.
Synonymous with the beginning of an auspicious time Indian culture, Sankranti is also referred to as a “holy phase of transition”. Primarily a harvest festival, the festival id dedicated to Sun God and is celebrated as an expression of gratitude for his assistance in reaping a good harvest. The auspiciousness of the festival can even be traced back to ancient literary texts like Mahabharata where Bhishma Pitamah had chosen to end his life during the auspicious Uttarayana, in spite of being heavily wounded in the battle. ‘Uttarayana’ originated from two Sanskrit words – “uttara” (North) and “ayana” (movement) signifying an auspicious movement of the sun.
Traditionally, a puja is performed offering prayers to the Sun God on Sankranti. The very first step involves cleaning the house and taking an Abhynjana Snana or oil bath, along with chanting the Gayatri Mantra, early in the morning. You too can do your very own puja in the following manner:
- Ingredients required:
- Betel leaves and nuts
- Sesame and jaggery seeds to be offered as prasad
- A mix of turmeric and rice powder called Akshata
- Holy water from the Ganges
- Yellu Bella to be offered to Sun God
- Four white til laddoos
- Four black till laddoos
- Teo Ghevars made from maida and ghee
- Boondi laddoos made from besan
- Clarified butter
- Steps to perform Sankranti Puja:
- Create a Baayna by placing the Teo Ghevar, white til laddoos, black til laddoos and some coins on a thali
- Place this thaali in front of your idol r image of Surya Devta
- Sprinkle some rice and Roli on the Baayna
- Apply a tilak of the mix of rice and Roli before sitting down for the puja
- Rotate your saree or dupatta covered head four times over the Baayna
- After the puja, give the Baayna to your married sister/sister-in-law/daughter/daughter-in-law if any or present it to a Brahmin
Sankranti celebrations are associated with a lot of mythological tales. One legend claims that Maharaja Bhagirath did a tapasya to Ganga Mata to bring her waters down on Earth and redeem the souls of the sixty thousand sons of Maharaja Sagara who were killed at Kapila Muni’s Ashram. Another legend believes that Lord Vishnu defeated the Asuras on this day and buried their heads on Mandara Parbat. Yet another one claims that Arjuna started Dhanurvidya or archery on Sankranti.
The Sankranti traditions across the country area as varied as the mythological tales. Most of the traditions are basis the local cultures and beliefs of the citizens, re-emphasizing the idea of unity in diversity. In Karnataka, for example, “Yellu Beeruva Habba” is a tradition that is followed wherein the Yellu and sugar cane are distributed by the young girls of the household among both loved ones and acquaintances.
Bhogi is another tradition followed not only in Karnataka, but also among Tamilians and Telegus wherein all old items in the house are discarded to welcome new ones. Symbolising the transition from old to new, old wooden household commodities are also burnt in a bonfire. Celebrated a day before Sankranti, colourful rangolis are also drawn at the entrances of homes and Gugilu or small dung balls decorated with flowers are placed in the middle.
An integral of Sankranti observances is expressing gratitude towards livestock. Kanuma and Mukkanuma are two such traditions dedicated to this belief. These involve painting the horns and hooves with bright colours, decorating them with bells and strings and offering prayers to them.
Majority of the Sankranti traditions, however, revolve around a variety of nutritious dishes. Sakkarai Pongal is a traditional dish prepared in Tamil Nadu, Telengana, Seemandhra and Kerala from freshly harvested rice, ground nuts and cashew nuts, jaggery and ghee. Til-guls are traditional sweets made in Maharashtra, which are extremely popular, from sesame seeds and jaggery. These are exchanged among loved ones while greeting each other with “til-gul ghyaa, aani goad-goad bolaa” meaning “accept these til-gul (sweets), and speak sweet words.” The sweetness of the festival is also evident among traditional Punjabi dishes like Rewari which are hard candies made from sesame seeds and coated with jaggery.
Festivities in the country are abundant, keeping the citizens in a festive mood across the year. This Sankranti, we pray you have a prosperous and fulfilling year ahead. Do tell us what you have planned for this Sankranti in the comments sections below!
Happy Sankranti to one and all!