Sankranti: The festival of harvest in India

Sankranti also called Maghi, or Makara Sankranti, is the festival of harvest across India, widely celebrated by Hindus. It is dedicated to the Sun God, Surya. The festival marks the transitioning of the sun into the zodiac of Capricorn, also known as ‘Makara Rashi.’ It also marks the beginning of a six-month auspicious period called Uttarayana.

Who celebrates the festival?

This festival of harvest is widely celebrated across Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Karnataka, Telangana, Rajasthan, and other parts of the country with different customs and rituals.

The festival is celebrated with different names across different states. While West Bengal and North East call it ‘Pousha Sankranti,’ Tamilnadu celebrates it as ‘Thai Pongal.’ In Kerala, Sankranti is referred to as ‘Makara Vilakku’. In Assam and North East, it is called ‘Magh Bihu.’ It is most commonly known as ‘Vasi Uttarayan’ in Gujarat and ‘Lohri’ in Punjab. There are different traditions in each state. Some believe that Sankranti is a deity who has killed a demon called Sankarasur after a day of the killing of another demon, Kinkarasur.

Significance:

There are twelve Sankrantis in a year—these twelve days mark the sun’s beginning of journey from one constellation. During Makara Sankranti, which mainly occurs in January, the sun starts moving towards the north direction and into the Makara Rashi, the zodiac of Capricorn. The ensuing six months are considered auspicious. Although the remaining days are considered auspicious too, these days are considered a bit more auspicious. The festival also marks the end of cold and long winter months.

The festival is dedicated to the sun god, Surya. The farming communities offer their new harvest to the god and feast with the joy of abundance of food, forgetting all the hardships they have gone through all year long.

Celebration across States:

  1. Maharashtra:

Maharashtra celebrates the festival of harvest for over three days and involves feasting with friends and family.

Day1: On the first day of the festival, Maharashtrians pray to sun-God by offering traditional homemade food. Children fly colorful kites.

Day2: Newly married women exchange haldi, kumkum, and other gifts.

Day3: The third day is recognized as the day on which the goddess defeated the demon, Kinkarasur, and people celebrate the victory of good over evil on this day every year.

You can hear Maharashtrians sharing words of goodwill like “Tilgul Ghya goad bola” on this day which translates to “Take sweet, talk sweet, and be sweet.” It is said that people exchange sweets and forget all the past hostilities that existed between them. The day is referred to as a time for forgiveness and togetherness.

They exchange sweets made with Til (sesame seeds) and gul (jaggery). Sesame seeds are black outside and white inside. It conveys the message to be “pure inside.”

Festival specials: Halwa, Tilgul laddoo, and pooran poli are the delicacies served on this auspicious day.

2. Goa:

Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Sankrant in Goa. Women practice a 12-day ritual where they pray to goddess Lakshmi by offering haldi and kumkum. They exchange haldi, kumkum, flowers, and other gifts.  They apply these sacred powders on each other’s foreheads, praying for the long healthy life of their husbands.

They pray to God by offering different types of traditional food items, including Rice, Chana dal (Bengal gram), Jaggery, and Coconut. They also offer the same to crows (which are believed to be the souls of their dead ancestors). However, the food offered to gods and crows is disposed of.

The festival ends on the day of Ratha Sapthami, on which the deities in the temple are taken around the streets of the village in a chariot, Rath.

On this day, newlywed women offer the deity coconuts, flowers, rice, and clay pots at the temple.

In Goa, too, people exchange traditional homemade sweets with til and sugar. And exchange goodwill by uttering the words “Til Gull gheiat, god uloiat” which translates to “eat sesame and jaggery and talk sweet to each other.”

Festival delicacies include rice, chana dal, coconut, and jaggery.

3. Karnataka:

Kannadigas celebrate the festival of harvest with great joy and enthusiasm by cleaning their homes, decorating the houses and the premises beautifully with flowers and rangoli, and donning traditional clothes.

Kannadigas follow a similar ritual of exchanging traditional sweets made of sesame seeds and jaggery, coconut, sugarcane, and fried peanuts. They also exchange bananas, Haldi, and kumkum and wish good for one another.

Kannadigas, similar to Maharashtrians and Goa people, greet each other, saying “Ellu Bella tindhu Olle mathadu,” which means “Eat jaggery and talk sweet.”

Newlywed women follow a five-year ritual where each married woman gives away bananas to the other married woman in multiples of five. And the count increases in the multiples of five each year until the first five years of marriage.

While some communities fly kites, others decorate their cows and bulls with vibrant costumes and visit houses in the villages.

Festival specials include sweet Pongal, lemon rice, payasa, vadas, and laddoos made of sesame seeds and jaggery.

4. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana:

In both these states, Sankranti is celebrated for over four days with great joy and excitement. Here, people wear new clothes and decorate their houses with flowers and mango leaves.

The streets are colorful with rangolis drawn by women and girls. They prepare sumptuous feasts on each day and offer them to the sun god as a symbol of gratefulness.

Day1: Bhogi

On this day, people get up early in the morning and burn all the old and unrequired articles in the bhogi fire. They then draw rangolis in front of their houses, take a bath, and wear new clothes. While children indulge in kite flying, adults enjoy cock and bullfights in rural areas. To the god, women offer pulagannam, a traditional dish made with rice, peanut powder, jaggery, and milk. 

Day2: Sankranti:

While the festival lasts over four days, the second day is considered the main festival’s day. People invite guests and arrange feasts. They pay their respects to their ancestors on this day. 

Day3: Kanuma:

This day is primarily dedicated to farmer communities. On this day, farmers worship their cattle by decorating them and feeding them heartily. 

Day4: Mukkanuma:

Farmers pay their tributes to the natural elements like wind, fire, earth, and rain, which are considered gods who enabled friendly environments for an abundant harvest of farmers. 

Another exciting ritual found in rural areas is that Haridasas (devotees of Lord Vishnu) visit houses, singing songs, and offering their blessings along with cows. 

Purnalu, pulagannam, payasannam, and Pongal are the must-have traditional dishes in every household on Sankranti.

Even the remaining states celebrate the festival of harvest, more or less, in the same fashion by offering traditional household food items to the gods and their ancestors, exchanging sweets and gifts, and feasting with near and dear ones. Some other states like Uttarakhand arrange fairs to showcase their culture through songs, dances, and other activities. While each state has its way of celebrating the festival, the root idea is common: forgiveness, togetherness, joy, offering the harvest to the gods, and paying respects to their ancestors. 4. 

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