2019 kicks off with much excitement and galore. New resolutions, new enthusiasm enter the foray. The season of festivities also powers into fourth gear with Makar Sankranti fast approaching (14th January). The first festival of the calendar year, it marks the first day of the sun's transit into the Makara (Capricorn) signalling the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days. Celebrated all across India, this ancient event is observed through different customs in each state of the country. One of the few auspicious days celebrated according to the solar cycle, Makar Sankranti is dedicated to the Sun god, Surya with blessings for a promising six months ahead. Here are extraordinary ways the people express the joyous oncoming of this opportune day in some regions of India.
Known as Uttarayan in Prime Minister Modi's home state, the festival is one of the most-awaited for days in Gujarat. It is celebrated for two days the first of which is dedicated to flying kites. Popular cries like "Kai Po Che" and "E Lapet" begin the occasion as the vast blue sky is filled with an array of kites. Kite flying competitions are held across communities in the state with each individual engaged in a suspenseful kite fight against all others. Undhiyu and chikkis, a delicious combination of winter vegetables, sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery, are cooked in every Gujarati household to commemorate the occasion.
Associated with the harvest of winter crops, Makar Sankranti called Lohri in Punjab is an iconic event among the farmers here. On the night of Lohri, bonfires are lit across the state among different societies to worship god and perform rituals. The locals also perform the "bhangra" while eating the mouth-watering traditional dish kheer, rice cooked in milk. The festival also marks the beginning of the end of the winter months.
Bihar and Jharkhand
The locals of Bihar and Jharkhand begin the day of celebrations with a dip in the Holy river Ganges. The festival witnesses a host of food being prepared in the local households with chuda-dahi (beaten rice and yoghurt) and a portion of gur (jaggery) making up the traditional breakfast for the occasion. Tilkut is a specially cooked dish for Makar Sankranti, recognized as Sakraat in Bihar and Jharkhand, made of an exquisite mix of jaggery and sesame seeds. While lunch is skipped to prepare for a heavy traditional dinner. Khichdi is often served with "chaar yaar" (four companions) - chokha (roasted potatoes), ghee, papad, and achaar (pickle).
Onto Assam where Makar Sankranti feats can last upto a week. Called Magh Bihu in these parts, the festival marks the end of the harvest season. Games like "tekeli-bhonga" (pot-breaking) and buffalo fighting take place on the actual day of the event. Rice cakes and laru, a sweet dish made from coconut, are popular delicacies. Meji, makeshift huts, are often erected from nothing by the young of the community to host the feast after which they are burned the following day.
Like the rest of South India, Pongal (the local name for Makar Sankranti) is celebrated in grand delight. The 4-day long festival is one of the largest occasions in Tamil Nadu. Day one sees old things replaced by new in the household while Day two, easily the most important, is where festival food is prepared. The locals also blow conch shells to signal the start of the harvest season. The third day is for the feeding of cattles but some villages also organize Jallikattu, a festival fort he taming of bulls. The last day is to be spent with family.