Saturday, 14 January 2017

Makar Sankranti, the harvest festival

This is Sid's third Makar Sankranti. This is the festival which marks the shift of the sun into ever-lengthening days. Every year it falls on January 14, and very rarely on January 15.

We Hindus dedicate this to the Sun God and it also marks the six months of auspicious period known as Uttaarayana. Yes, it's the same period for which Bhishma in Mahabharata waited to die, as there is a belief that the gates of the heaven open during Uttarayana.

Makara Sankranti is believed to be a time for peace and prosperity. The day is regarded as important for spiritual practices and accordingly people take a holy dip in rivers, especially Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery. The bathing in holy rivers is believed to wash away sins.

This is the Suggi or harvest festival for our farmers in 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".
The plate normally contains "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 also contains sugar candy moulds (Sakkare Acchu) with a piece of sugarcane.

We eat sesame and jaggery during this festival because the festival marks the arrival of sunny days. Our bodies require moisture and sesame seeds and peanuts which are rich in oil content act as moisturizers.

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 among some households giving away red berries "Yalchi Kai" with the above.

We prepare Sihi (sweet) and Khara (spicy) Pongal as a naivedyam, besides vada and akki (rice) payasa. It was indeed fun to watch little Sid enjoying Khara Pongal for the first time, though he has tasted sweet pongal several times earlier.  

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."

Happy Makar Sankranti to all!

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