Makar Sankranti is the first Hindu festival to be celebrated in a New Calendar Year. It is usually celebrated on 14th January. It is said that Kharmas is prevalent before that date which ends on that day and the sun enters Makar Rashi which is considered auspicious. It is called by different names in different regions viz. KHICHRI in Bihar, POUSH SANKRANTI in West Bengal, LOHRI in Punjab, SANKRANTI HABBA in Karnataka, UTTARAYAN in Gujrat to name a few. Sindhis call it LAL LOI or TIRMOURI.
As per information gathered by talking to relatives and friends belonging to different states, some very interesting customs and rituals followed by them have emerged.
Customs followed in Maharashtra and Goa are very similar except certain minor points like Black saris are favoured by Maharashtrians whereas all bright colours except black are worn by Konkani ladies.
A day before Sankranti, ladies in Maharashtra prepare a dish called “Bhogi” comprising of a green leafy vegetable called “chakwat” green chana, peanut, “Pauta”(a variety of broad beans), carrot and brinjal together with Bajra roti with Til( sesame seeds) and offer to Goddess Tulja Bhawani who is worshipped during this festival.
A Bhog of Puran Poli is made out of maida, wheat flour, lentil, jaggery and desi ghee.Tilguls are also made in the evening before the Pooja. These are laddoos made out of til and jaggery. These laddoos are distributed to one and all. While giving Tilguls to a person you are supposed to say ” don’t drop this tilgul and don’t fight with me.”
This is edible jewellery.
Small sugar beads called “SAKHAR PHUTANE” are also made and interestingly jewellery is made out of these beads and worn by women and children.
After the Pooja, seven small earthen pots containing sugarcane, green chana with skin, wheat stalk(ombi), berries and peanuts are given to seven married ladies after applying Haldi and Kumkum on their foreheads.
The day after Sankranti is called ” Kinkrant” on which day you are not supposed to fight with anybody— the belief is if you fight on that day, you spend the whole year fighting– so spread love and harmony on this day and spend the year in a similar manner.
Til is widely used and the scientific reason is that since this festival is celebrated in the middle of winter, it gives warmth to the body since Til produces heat in the body.
Similar rituals are followed in Goa. Konkani ladies wear bright ” Nau Vaari” ( 9 yards) sari with new jewellery, green bangles and a nose ring traditionally made of white beads. Usually, this type of dress is worn on the first Makar Sankranti after marriage. For the first such celebration, seven coconuts with betel leaves with betel nuts(paan veeda) are kept in a Pooja Mandir. After Pooja, these together with Til sweets are given to seven married ladies in seven earthen pots.
On the second day, HALDI KUNKU is celebrated. All married ladies are invited and coconuts are gifted as a symbol of secure “Suhaag” and goodwill together with sweets.
Feeding cows and giving donations are also considered auspicious.
In Bihar, people start the day by setting aside a little lentil, rice and vegetables like potato, brinjal and onions; bathe, do Surya namaskar, and touch these items while taking Lord Vishnu’s name. The same is offered to the God worshipped at home. The morning meal consists of poha and curd and a vegetable dish mostly green peas since it is winter. And of course, laddoos made of Til.
At night KHICHRI is made out of the items kept aside and consumed.
It is said that usually, Makar Sankranti falls on a Wednesday, but if it falls on a Tuesday /Thursday /Saturday, KHICHRI is celebrated the next day.
Bengalis, famous for their sweet tooth, make a variety of sweets predominantly out of coconut, milk and new jaggery and also rice flour called “Pooli Peethe” and ” Patishapta”. These sweets are made the night before Sankranti . Dried rice stalks are tied and kept in all parts of the house like a storeroom, cash box, sandooks(trunks) Pooja room etc. The belief behind this ritual is that the family is tying Goddess Laxmi to their home so that there is no dearth of wealth in that household.
The next day Laxmi Pooja is done in an open space and the Pooja pot is set up outside the house. Khichri, Pooli Peethe and vegetarian food are consumed on that day.
It is said that jackals howl three times at night: once after the first pahar, then after the second ie. midnight then lastly at 3 am. So after the second howl fades away, the Laxmi Pooja pot is brought inside the house in the hope that the Goddess will stay put and continue to shower her blessings on the family.
In the southern region, Karnataka celebrates it as SANKRANT HABBA. Habba means festival. The day before some daily goods like oil is donated to the wife of the Brahmin priest who performs the Pooja. On Sankranti day no one takes a bath since you are not allowed to wash your head. Colourful Rangolis are designed before 6 am, Sun God is worshipped, Til and jaggery are offered as Bhog and Puran Poli is distributed to everybody. Sweet Pongal is made and in North Karnataka, Bharta is made out of Til, jaggery, vegetables and sweet pumpkin along with Bajra roti. Food is also prepared from AVAREKEI (flat beans), Til, peanut and sugarcane. Chikkis are also made.
People worship cow and ox the day after and donate food and clothes to the poor.
Though some form of Pooja is performed in the different states in India, not so in our flamboyant Punjab, where it is celebrated as LOHRI. It is a community festival and the emphasis is on the cultural aspect rather than religion. Punjabis dress up in bright coloured clothes, eat, sing and dance around a big bonfire and generally make merry, the louder the better. New harvest from farmer’s field along with Rewri, Til and peanuts are thrown in the fire by the family members.
When a child is born in a family or there is a wedding, the first Sankranti after such event is the cause for a big function where the whole community is invited, songs of “Badhayiaan”(congratulations) are sung and the merriment begins.
It is a big festival for Punjabis. Sugarcane juice is used to make kheer and new jaggery and Til are used to make sweets.
Kite flying is a popular sport during this festival. Colourful kites of various shapes and designs are sold. According to recent media reports, the latest designer kites in Mumbai and Gujrat are the ones sporting images of PM Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama against the backdrop of Parliament House and White House.
Colourful kites and lanterns called Tukkals are widely flown in Gujrat during the night and it is workshops in Gujrat that dictate design trends.
Gujratis make chikkis of Til, peanuts and jaggery, jalebis and a spicy dish of mixed vegetables called Undhiyu during this festival.