This is one Indian festival that has it all – feasting, singing, dancing, sports and fairs. And oh! It has kites and bonfires too. If there is one pan Indian festival other than Diwali, it surely has to be this one.
It is Maghi in Punjab, Bihu in Assam, Magha Saaji in Himachal Pradesh, Khichiri in Uttar Pradesh, Sakrat in Bihar, Pedda Panduga (big festival) in Andhra, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Makar Sankranti elsewhere. The festival marks the new harvest and also the passing of the winter solstice. The Sun God, Surya is worshipped on this day as he begins the journey northward (uttarayan). Sankranti therefore has both religious and social/cultural significance.
Since it falls during winter, bonfires are an integral part. We have Lohri In Punjab and Bhogi in Andhra and Tamil Nadu. While the Punjabis sing and dance around the Lohri fire, throwing rice, sugarcane and til into it, Bhogi bonfire is different. All unwanted junk accumulated over the year is burnt in the fire, symbolising the destruction of negative thoughts and feelings. Both Lohri and Bhogi are celebrated on the eve of Sankranti.
The next day is the big festival when newly harvested grains are cooked and seasonal and regional produce consumed in a sumptuous feast. However, til (sesame) and jaggery are indispensable to the feast in all regions. Til is believed to evoke positive feelings in those who consume it, which is why in Maharashtra, til mixed with jaggery (tilgud) is exchanged by people exhorting each other to speak sweetly and forget quarrels and disagreements. Jaggery adds warmth to the body and so is used liberally during this festival whether in gajak, til gud, til laddu, pongal or puran poli.
Bathing in sacred rivers on this day is considered auspicious. There are rural games in many states including bullfighting in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart racing in Maharashtra and the southern states. Kite flying during this festival is a major tourist attraction in Gujarat. A mammoth fair at Gangasagar is held in West Bengal at the confluence of the Ganga and the sea.
In Kerala, it has more of a religious significance. Pilgrims converge on Sabarimalai on this day after observing austerities for 40 days and the Makara Jyoti is lit. The magnificent light is visible for miles around.
I might have left some states, so do tell me about them. I am sure you now agree with me that Sankranti is indeed a pan-Indian festival.
And now, how about trying out this super simple sweet pongal this Sankranti?
Rice – 1 cup
Moong dal – ¼ cup
Jaggery – 1 ½ cup – 2 cups (powdered and loosely packed)
Milk – 1 cup
Water – 2 cups
Ghee – 2 tbsp
Cardamom powder – ½ tsp
Cashewnuts – 10-12 (halved)
Dry roast moong dal till golden brown. Wash rice and dal and cook in the pressure cooker with the milk and water till soft. (Appr. 5 minutes on sim after two whistles). Lightly mash and add powdered jaggery and cook for 5 minutes till well combined, stirring to prevent burning. Add cardamom powder and mix well. Fry cashews in the ghee and garnish. Add more ghee if you don’t mind the calories!
Tips: Milk gives it a rich taste and you can reduce, increase or omit milk as per your taste. The rice and dal need to be mashed before adding jaggery to get the creamy consistency of pongal.
The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard!