In Gujarat, every year from the second week of January ( as Makar sankranti approaches) , we see kites every where. The kite flying celebration is quite new for my elder one and as he realised the excitement among his friends about kites and Uttarayan, he came and asked " why do people here fly kites on Uttarayan? Do we celebrate kite festival like here in Coimbatore or Kerala or in Kolkata too ? I have never noticed".
His question is justified and that's when I told him about Makar Sankranti, which is celebrated every year on 14th January ( following the Hindu Solar calendar) but the name, rituals and celebrations vary from one Indian state to another. It's a harvest festival and is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India.
However, the festival is essentially dedicated to the Sun God, as the sun starts its journey again from south to Northwards ( hence Uttarayan) , from this time of the year. So, it's a good time for harvesting crops.
Let's take a look at India celebrates Makar Sankranti in different ways :
Here the festival is called Uttarayan. It marks the end of the winter solistice, which makes the days longer than nights. So, it's a good time for people to get sun exposure ( natural source of Vitamin D) and fly kites with friends and family. People get busy flying kites and calling out 'Kaipoche' , the moment they cut another kite. Also, it time to eat undhiyo, Jalebis, papdi, chiki etc. The next day of Uttarayan is called Vasi-uttarayan.
Here the festival is called Maghi (the first day of the Indian month Magha). People celebrate by eating a special dish of rice that is cooked in sugarcane juice. The night before the Maghi, the sikhs celebrate as Lohri.
Tamil Nadu :
Here the festival is called Pongal and is celebrated over 4 days. Tamilians celebrate the day by cooking Pongal ( a sweet dish made of rice, milks, cashew, and cardamom) in daylight and offering it to the Sun God first.
Here the festival is called Bhogali Bihu. People celebrate by making makeshift huts (meji) where they feast on traditional delicacies.
West Bengal :
Here the festival is called 'Poush' sankranti. The Bengalis devour the delicacies like 'Pitha' and others, made of fresh palm jaggery, rice flour coconut and milk.
People eat and exchange halwa, laddoos and puran polis. People exchanging til gul laddoos ( made of sesame seeds and jaggery) with their friends and family. This act of exchange signifies forgetting the past hostilities and starting a fresh, new chapter of sweetness.
Himachal Pradesh :
Here it's called Magha Saaji ( saaji means sankranti in Pahari). People celebrate this festival by taking dips in the springs in the early morning and spending the day with friends and family, relishing Khichdi and ghee and enjoying folk dance ( naati) and songs.
On this day, the people of Odisha strengthen their bond of friendship by tying makara on each others' wrists. This practice is called Makar Basiba. They also prepare Makar Chaula with newly harvested rice, jaggery , sesame , coconut etc.
People here celebrate Ghughutia or Kale Kauva on this day. They prepare sweetmeats in different shapes like swords, drums etc. Kids string these in a necklace and place an orange in the middle and wear them around their neck. They offer the food to the birds after calling out 'Kaale Kauva'. This is done to welcome all the migratory birds.
Here the festival is known as Kicheri. People go to the rivers in Varanasi, Allahabad for holy bathing. They eat til laddoo and gud laddoo on this day.
People of Kerala visit Sabarimala to view the Makara Jyothi.
The festival is colloquially known as Khichdi as the people here make a rich khichdi on this day and socialise with their friends and family.
On this Suggi (harvest) festival, People here exchange a plate of sesame, coconut , jaggery with their friends and family. In some parts of the state, cows and bulls are decorated in colourful costumes and taken on a procession.
Thus , even if the customs of this festival differ from one household to another and the recipe varies, the main ingredients are usually, sesame and jaggery which has their own nutritional value and keep the body warm, retain the moisture and strengthen immunity.
So, that's Uttarayan for us! To make my children better informed about the Indian customs and festivals, we have decided to spend some time doing the worksheets, apart from ofcourse getting together with friends, flying kites, going on road trips. Time to make the most from this mini weekend break!