Does anyone remember their school days when they were asked to write an essay on a festival, e.g. Holi, Deepavali, or Uttarayan? We used to start off with festivals are a much needed break from the boring routine life and then go on to describe the festival. After so many years of schooling, it indeed feels that the festivals are that much needed break from the routine life!
In the Indian culture, there was a time when there used to be a festival every day of the year – 365 festivals in a year – because a festival is a tool to bring life to a state of exuberance and enthusiasm. That was the significance and importance of festivals. The whole culture was in a state of celebration. If today was ploughing day, it was a kind of celebration. Tomorrow was planting day, another kind of celebration. Day after tomorrow was weeding, that was a celebration. Harvesting, of course, is still a celebration. But in the last 400 or 500 years, poverty has come to our country, and we have not been able to celebrate every day. People are satisfied if they just get some simple food to eat. So all the festivals fell away and only 30 or 40 festivals remain. We are not even able to celebrate those now because we have to go to the office or do something else daily. So people usually celebrate only around 8 or 10 festivals annually.
Nowadays, unfortunately, a festival means they give you a holiday, and you wake up only at twelve noon. Then you eat a lot and go for a movie or watch television at home. It wasn’t like that earlier. A festival meant the whole town would gather in a place and there would be a big celebration. A festival meant we got up at four in the morning, and very actively, lots of things happened all over the house.
What prompted me to write an essay on Makarsankranti was this ludicrous essay of Union Minister Smt. Maneka Gandhi wherein she preposterously tried to draw parallels between an Islamic ‘festival’ of ‘sacrifice’, Eid-al-Adha, i.e. Bakrid, and a Hindu harvest festival to maliciously portray the Indian culture uncivilized and Hindu traditions barbaric and violent! In order to support her preconceived conclusion, she tried to twist facts, resorted to half- truths, and on some instances, lied with a straight face! I wish to rebut her and set the record straight by explaining how India celebrates this festival of Makarsankranti.
What is Makarsankranti?
Makarsankranti, unlike other Hindu festivals, does not depend on position of the moon, it depends on position of the sun. On this day, the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn. To compensate for the differences which occur due to the earth’s revolution around the sun, sometimes it is postponed by one day.
Makarsankranti is the day from which northward movement of the sun begins. The period from Karkasankranti (the passage of the sun into the zodiac sign of Cancer) to Makarsankranti is called the dakshinayan. As per Hindu scriptures, a person who dies in the dakshinayan period has a greater chance of going to Yamalok (southward region), than one who dies during uttarayan (northward revolution).
Celebrations of Makarsankranti:
Makarsankranti is celebrated in different manners across India. Bengalis make sweets, Telugus burn old items of the house, Punjabis create a bonfire. In short, the entire nation welcomes the new season of harvest in different styles, but with a single notion of joy, manifesting the phrase we often use to describe the vibrant Indian culture- unity in diversity!
The festival of Makarsankranti is known as Shishur Saenkraat in the Kashmir Valley. Shishur literally means the winter. This is an exclusive occasion for the new born baby and the newly-wed bride. On this day a little lime powder is placed in a piece of ‘Zarbaft’ cloth and stitched into a small triangular shape. This is then fixed on the cap of the new born or on the side of the sari which covers the head of the bride. The rationale behind this custom is to ward off any evil eye and any ill omen. On this day yellow meat is specially cooked and this along with pan cakes is distributed among the relatives, friends and neighbours.
People of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana celebrate the festival for four days. Each day signifies a different aspect of the dawning season. Day one is known as ‘Bhogi‘ when people sell or throw away old household items and get new replacements, marking the course of change. At dawn, they light a bonfire where all old materials are discarded signifying the fire of knowledge of Rudra, a form of Lord Shiva. Children are showered with ber or Indian Jujube, also known as Regi Pandlu in Telugu, to protect them from evil threats.
Day two is for the main occasion, Makar Sankranti, which is celebrated with family. People wear new clothes and eat homemade sweet delicacies. Each house dons a rangoli or ‘muggu‘ (Telugu).
Day three is known as Kanuma and is celebrated by feeding cattle, and day four is known as Mukkanuma, which is celebrated by spending time with family members and arranging fun activities such as bullock or ox races, kite flying, and cock fights.
Magh Bihu (or Bhogali Bihu):
Magh Bihu, also known as Bhogali Bihu, is the second most celebrated Bihu festival of Assam. It’s the festival of food and sport.
Bhogali Bihu is celebrated in mid of January, on the first day of ‘Magh’ month of Assamese Calendar. ‘Bhogali’ means handiness of rich food. So Bhogali Bihu represents a festival of food; as it is celebrated in the month of ‘Magh’, it is also known as ‘Magh’ Bihu. Like other two Bihu, this is also related to harvesting. Bhogali Bihu is celebrated at a time when all the cultivation works get over and everyone has plenty to eat and enjoy.
The celebrations of Bhogali Bihu starts one day before the actual day, i.e., on the last day of the month ‘Puh’. On this eve, people build ‘Meji’, a structure made of wood or tree leaves that is to be burnt on the actual Bihu day. This Meji is guarded whole day night by all the people of the village. To stay for the night, people build temporary houses called ‘Bhela Ghar’. These houses are usually made up of hay. There used to be grand feasts for the people staying in the bhela ghar that night. The feast is called ‘Bhoj’.
On the actual day of Magh Bihu, everyone takes bath at the dawn itself and proceed to the meji. The Meji is lit up by one old member of the society or village. All the villagers get together in the Meji and complete many rituals. Various types edibles like coconut, betel nut, etc. are worshiped to the Meji, i.e., to the Hindu God of Fire (Agni Devta). Various types of potatoes, mitha aloo, muwa aloo, etc. are roasted in the large fire of meji and everyone eats from children to old people eat it. Youths also enjoy with cracker like thing made of bamboo called ‘Hiloi’. Magh Bihu is celebrated at a season when winter is about to go. It is believed that the fire of Meji burns the winter out!
Ladies of the society prepare for this Bihu for many days. They cook various snacks, sweets, for this day. On the Bhogali Bihu day, they carry their food items to the auspicious Meji spot. Various types of Jolpan and pitha are served to everyone.
Like all other Bihu, Magh Bihu also has the ritual of showing respect the elder ones with Gamosa. But the celebrations don’t just stop here. There are various types of traditional sports where from children to old people participate. Among them, the most popular one is egg-fight. It is played across Assam in every corner from villages to towns. There are some traditional sports involving pets, animals etc. These sports are now localized to some places now a days. The most thrilling among them is the Buffalo-fight. Another popular one is bird-fight. The birds may vary from cock, hen to nightingale etc.
People from Bihar and Jharkhand celebrate the festival for two days. They call it Sakraat or Khichdi in their local dialects.
On the first day of Makar Sankranti, people bathe in ponds and rivers and taste the sweet dishes of the season. The sweet delicacies include a special item called Tilgud, which are small balls made of sesame seed and jaggery. Tilgud is an iconic dish of the festival across India.
On the second day, which is called Makraat, people celebrate it by having khichdi, a dish made of dal, rice, cauliflower, peas, and potatoes.
Over two million people gather at their respective sacred places for this holy bathing such as Allahabad and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Haridwar in Uttarakhand. If they cannot go in river then they bathe at home. There is a compulsion to bathe in the morning while fasting; first they bathe then they eat sweets such as til ladoo and gud laddo (known as tillava in Bhojpuri). At some places new clothes are worn on this day.
Yadavs, Jats and other rural communities of 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 in Jats and Yadavs homes on this day. One 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 rituals called “Manana”. The recipient will sit in a haweli (main palace where men sit together and share hookka). Women go to haweli to sing folk songs and give gifts.
The Punjabi festival Lohri is celebrated on Januray 13, every year. The festival is associated with the harvest of winter crops and is celebrated by the people of Punjab origin. The time of Lohri is considered as an ideal season to harvest sugarcane. Thus, the crop has become an iconic item of the festival for farmers.
A day after Lohri, also known as Maghi, is observed as the financial new year by the farmers in Punjab. Kite flying on Lohri is popular in some parts of Punjab. On the night of Lohri, people light bonfires to worship the god of fire and perform rituals.
Makar Sankranti is a huge celebration in Maharashtra. The whole state bursts with joy and merriment. The festival is celebrated for at least three days. People exchange tilgud, halwa, puran poli. The phrase “til-gul ghya, aani god-god bola“, which means “Have tilgud and say sweet words”, is said while exchanging the sweets. This exchange of sweets is traditionally known to be an indication of truce between enemies.
The first day is known as Bhogi, the second as Sankrant and the third day is known as Kinkrant.
Apart from being recognised a festival celebrating harvesting in India, Sankrant in Maharashtra also celebrates the triumph of Goddess Sankranti over demon Sankarasur. Women, clad in black clothes, get together and apply Haldi-Kumkum (turmeric-vermillion) and exchange gifts in form of clothes and utensils.
Makar Sankrant also honours the deity of education, Goddess Saraswati, and the ancestors.
Celebrations in Goa closely resemble to that in Maharashtra. The women celebrate ‘haldi-kumkum’.
Sankrant 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. Especially, 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. The first Sankranti experienced by a married woman is of significance as she is invited by her parents and brothers to their houses with her husband for a big feast. People invite friends and relatives (specially their sisters and daughters) to their home for special festival meals (called as “Sankrant Bhoj”). People give out many kind of small gifts such as til-gud (jaggery), fruits, dry khichadi, etc. to Brahmins or the needy ones.
Besides the usual rituals, people of Odisha, especially Western Odisha, reaffirm the strength of the bond of friendship with their best friends during this occasion. The practice is called ‘Makar Basiba’. After a man binds himself with one of his friends in the shackles of friendship during Makara Sankranti, afterwards he addresses the other as ‘Maharshad’ or ‘Marsad’; if two women tie the friendship lace on each other’s wrist, they call each other ‘Makara’. They don’t utter each other’s name. This goes on for one full year till the next Makara Sankranti. In Eastern Orissa, on many occasions, two friends feed each other ‘Mahaprasad’, the offering made in the famous Jagannath temple of Puri, and continue the friendship for at least one year.
Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan is a major festival for the Gujarati people. The festival lasts for two days much like Sakraat. The first day is celebrated on January 14 and is called Uttarayan. The word originates from the course that the Sun takes as it starts to move along the northern sky. The day of Uttarayan is celebrated by flying kites or ‘patang‘. Kite flying contests are held across the state and people engage in kite fights. Words and phrases such as “Kai po che“, “E Lapet“, “Phirki vet phirki” is shouted at the time of the fights. ‘Kai po che‘ is said to taunt the losing side when a kite cuts the thread of another one.The next day is called Vasi (meaning stale) Uttarayan. Dishes like undhiyu, which is a mix of winter vegetables and chikki, made of sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery, are being made to celebrate the occasion.
Much like Andhra and Telengana, Tamil Nadu also celebrates the harvest festival in a grand fashion. The harvest festival is known as Pongal in the state. The Tamil-speaking people celebrate Pongal for a period of four days.
Day one is known as Bhogi Pandigai and is celebrated by burning old things of the house and replacing them with the new ones. Leaves of Neem are placed over the roofs and walls of houses to ward off evil. This ritual is called Kappu Kattu.
The second and the most important day is known as Thai Pongal or just Pongal. The word ‘Thai’ in this context comes from the name of the month Thai in Tamil. The day is celebrated by having rice boiled with fresh milk and jaggery, topped with brown sugar, raisins and cashew nuts. The moment the first bubble rises from the rice pot, people shout “Ponggalo Ponggal” and blow conch shells to mark the advent of the new season of harvest.
The third day is known as Mattu Pongal, which is marked by feeding the cattle. Some villages organise Jallikattu, a festival of taming wild bulls.
The fourth day, known as Kaanum Pongal, is celebrated with family members.
Mouth-watering sweets and the smell of fresh cut rice mark the harvest festival in West Bengal. Puli pithe, paatisapta, maalpoaa, narkel nadu, til nadu are some of the most famous sweet dishes that mark Poush Parbon. Khejurer gur or jaggery made from dates is the iconic item of the Poush Parbon.
The origin of the word Poush is much like the Tamil word Thai, which comes from the name of the month according to the Bengali calendar. The word Parbon means festival inBengali.
West Bengal is also famous for the traditional Ganga Sagar carnival. Millions of devotees come to the confluence of river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal to bathe before dawn and worship Lord Shiva and Goddess Ganga. The Hindu God of Justice, Dharma, is also worshipped on Makar Sankranti.
Makaravilakku is an annual festival held on 14 January (Makar Sankranti) in Kerala at the shrine of Sabarimala. The festival includes the Thiruvabharanam (sacred ornaments of Ayyappan) procession and a congregation at the hill shrine of Sabarimala. An estimated half a million devotees flow to Sabarimala every year to have a darshan (vision) of this ritual.
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 (Sakkare Acchu)with a piece of sugarcane. There is a saying in Kannada “ellu bella thindu olle maathadi” that translates 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. Ellu Bella, Ellu Unde, bananas, sugarcane, red berries, haldi and kumkum and small gift items useful in everyday lives are often exchanged among women in Karnataka.
In some parts of Karnataka, a newly married woman is required to give away bananas for five years to married women (muthaidhe/sumangali) from the first year of her marriage and increase the number of bananas in multiples of five. There is also a tradition of some households giving away red berries “Yalchi Kai” with the above. In north Karnataka, kite flying with community members is a tradition. Drawing rangoli in groups is another popular event among women during Sankranti.
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.”
It is thus evident that Makarsankranti is a festival of joy, friendship, kindness, chivalry, and adventure! It is absurd to even think of linking such a joyous harvest festival of the Indian culture with an Islamic festival of ‘sacrifice’! Yet Smt. Maneka Gandhi does it!
Quite contrary to what she claims, unlike Bakrid, no animal or bird is ever slaughtered to offer as a ‘sacrifice’ to anyone… The ‘superstitious’ ritual that the people of Karnataka followed did include trapping foxes; but the trapped foxes were neither tortured nor killed, they were rather worshipped and then released as it was believed that they bring good luck! Yes, it is a fact that some birds do get harmed in Uttarayan, but then it’s also a fact that so many people volunteer to treat those harmed birds and the figure of around three lakh birds getting killed is absolutely ridiculous to say the least! No bull is ever tortured or killed in Jallikattu, many humans, however, do die! No buffaloes are tortured or killed yet Smt. Maneka Gandhi goes on to peddle lies, half- truths, and continues to twist facts as well.
Unless the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Union Government of India distance themselves from Smt. Maneka Gandhi’s views, we have no reason to presume that Smt. Maneka Gandhi expressed her views on a major Hindu festival, Makarsankranti, in her personal capacity!
It is, ultimately, for the Hindus to decide whether they wish to let this sink in and give the so-called Hindu Nationalist Party, i.e. BJP, a free pass even on this! One thing is certain- If Hindus don’t come forward to protect their own way of life, no one else will. Certainly not the allegedly Hindu Nationalist Party, i.e. BJP!