Makara Sankranti. January 14 morning. Thick curd lay settled in the clay pot, its mouth covered with a sal leaf. A big bowl of soaked poha (flattened rice). Gleaming sesame laddoos. A mound of jaggery. The scrumptious delights blocked out by the grandmother's booming instruction -"Do not touch this without bathing. On Makara Sankranti, you bathe first, say a prayer, and only then will you be blessed with a husband like Lord Shiva." On Makara Sankranti, my granny was ready to marry off every bathed-girl with a Shiva lookalike. That cold January morning, tucking the white shirt into the blue skirt school uniform, I'd giggle and argue with granny about not wanting a Shiva, or his lookalike. The sun is worshipped on this day, not Shiva. I'd try to correct her mythology. But granny was argumentative about Shiva-like husband, and her word was diktat. Thus, the ritual continued. One January into another. Then, another. Bathe. Pray. Hope for a Shiva lookalike husband. Devour the curd-poha with an added ladle of jaggery. Pick a til (sesame) laddoo and run to school.
Makara Sankranti was the only harvest festival celebrated in my home in Jharkhand. Harvest festivals date back to an age when agriculture was the main/sole source of income and wealth. Many of the rituals have changed with time, but the tradition of harvest festivals continues around the country. The dates and celebrations are varied, but what remains unchanged is the idea of thanking Nature for a bountiful harvest. Here are a few of harvest festivals of India...
Said to be mentioned in the Mahabharata, this harvest festival takes its name from the sun entering the Capricorn (makara). The word 'Sankranti' signifies the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign to another. Thus, the name of the festival literally means the movement of the sun into Capricorn. One of the few ancient Hindu festivals observed according to the solar cycle, the festival is marked with worship of the sun, kite-flying, and traditional dishes like sesame laddoo and a khicdhi dinner. Not surprisingly, the festival is also known as Khichdi in the Mithila region of Bihar.
Though it is held on January 14 every year, after every 80 years, Makara Sankranti is celebrated on January 15 due to the movement of the sun.
Makara Sankarnti is also celebrated as Lohri in Punjab and northern India. People gather around bonfires and celebrate with music and dance. The traditional dishes include gajjak, chikki, peanuts and popcorn, sarson ka saag and makki ki roti, accompanied by white butter and jaggery. The feast concludes with raskheer, a pudding made with sugarcane juice and rice.
Known as Baisakhi, Vaishakhi or Vasakhi, and held on April 13/14 every year, it marks the beginning of the Sikh new year. Religiously, Baisakhi commemorates the formation of the Khalsa panth of warriors under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, but it is also a celebration of spring harvest when the rabi crop ripens. Aawat pauni is a tradition associated with harvesting in which people get together to harvest wheat. Drums are played and poems recited to the beat while people work in the fields. Fairs and nagar kirtan (literally, town hymn singing) are held, and festivities include bhangra.
For Hindus, Baisakhi marks the beginning of the solar new year. It is celebrated as Pohela Boishakh in West Bengal and Bahag Bihu in Assam, but typically a day or two after Baisakhi.
Celebrated in Gujarat on January 14, Uttarayana stems from two Sanskrit words, uttara (north) and ayana (movement), which indicate the northward movement of the Earth on the celestial sphere that lasts for nearly six months. For the tourist, this harvest festival has become synonymous with kite-flying (International Kite Festival) in which thousands of colourful kites dot the blue sky and people compete with each other. Festivities include partaking in local delicacies such as undhiyu (a mixed vegetable including yam and beans), sesame seed brittle and jalebi.
For the best kite-flying views, people crowd to the Sabarmati riverfront and the Ahmedabad Police Stadium.
Falling in the Chingam month of the Malayalam calendar, Onam is the state festival of Kerala. Commemorating the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu, Onam celebrates the rice harvest. Held in August/September, it is marked by festivities including vallam kali (boat races), pulikali (tiger dances), pookkalam (flower arrangement), onathappan (worship), thumbi thullal (women's dance), kummattikali (mask dance), onathallu (martial arts), kazhchakkula (plantain offerings), and other celebrations.
Onam sadya (feast) is an indispensable part of the festival. Traditionally made with seasonal vegetables such as yam, cucumber and ash gourd, sadya is served on plantain leaves, consists of nine courses, and ends with payasam.
A four-day harvest festival held mainly in Tamil Nadu, Pongal is thanksgiving to Nature for rice, sugarcane, other grains and turmeric, which are harvested in the month of Thai (January-February). Literally translating into 'to boil', Pongal begins with Bhogi festival in honour of Lord Indra; on the second day, rice is boiled in milk outdoors in an earthenware pot and symbolically offered to the Sun god; the third day is known as Mattu Pongal, the day of Pongal for cows, while on the fourth day (Kanu or Kannum Pongal day), a turmeric leaf is washed on which are placed the leftovers of sweet pongal and venn pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice coloured red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains.
Held at the end of the Hindi month of Phalgun (March), Holi is a spring festival for Hindus, a national holiday in India, a regional holiday in Nepal and other countries. Holi has become synonymous with colours and the beginning of Spring. In 17th-century literature, it was identified as a festival that celebrated agriculture, commemorated good spring harvests and the fertile land.
It is the New Year's Day for the Hindus of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and typically falls in March/April of the Gregorian calendar. Known as Gudi Padwa in Goa, Yugadi in Karnataka, Cheti Chand by the Sindhi community, Sajibu Nongma Panba in Manipur, Ugadi is observed by drawing colourful patterns on the floor and hanging mango-leaf decorations at the door.
Bevu-bella, a mixture of jaggery and neem leaves, and pachadi, a dish replete with sweet, sour, salty, bitter flavours, is not only a must-eat, but also a symbolic reminder that one must expect all flavours of experiences.
Also known as Basoa, this harvest festival of Himachal Pradesh is celebrated by the aboriginals and the farming folk on the first day of the month of Baisakh. Three days before Bishu, people make little cakes with kodra (a coarse grain) flour and wrap them in leaves.
On the day of the festival, they invite their married daughters and other relatives, break the cakes, and eat them with honey and sweet water flavoured with jaggery. In Manipur, Bishu is identical with the Cheiraoba festival of Manipuri Meiteis, which is celebrated on the first day of the Manipuri month of Sajibu (March/April) to herald a new year.
Borrowing from the Hindi word hariyali (greenery), Hareli is celebrated by the Gond tribes of Chattisgarh/Madhya Pradesh in July-August. During this festival, the goddess of crop, Kutki Dai, is worshipped to ensure better harvest, and is marked by playing gedi, a game where small children mount on bamboo sticks and walk around the fields.
Held a day after Ganesh Chaturthi, Nuakhai is held in Odisha to mark the arrival of the new rice harvest. Nua (new) Khai (food) is also known as Nuakhai Porab or Nuakhai Bhetghat.
Bihu denotes three harvest festivals celebrated in Assam, Maagh in January, Bohag in April, and Kaati in October. Of the three, Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu, celebrated in mid-April, is the most important. The seven-day festival is marked with dance, music, and local delicacies.