India: The Land of Harvest Festivals

“This culture of sharing is the most beautiful essence of Sankranti and it need not be confined to just the harvest. The festival of Makar Sankranti must remind us of the limitless blessings of the divine and we must commit ourselves to sharing with those who are less fortunate.” says Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, global spiritual leader and the founder of The Art of Living.

Sankranti is when the sun moves from one zodiac to another. Out of 12 Sankrantis in the year, Makar Sankranti is the most celebrated one since it marks the movement of the sun in the ‘Makar Rashi’ which essentially means the arrival of longer days, as the sun moves to the north of the tropic of Capricorn, in other words, ‘Uttarayan’.

The apparent movement of sun towards the northern hemisphere also marks the onset of the harvest season for the winter crops and hence it is celebrated as a harvest festival in order to honour the winter harvest and thank the Sun God.

The day before Makar Sankranti is the longest night which is celebrated as Lohri in the North Indian states like Punjab and Haryana. A beautiful way this is done is by honouring the food by offering it to the fire and sharing the residual while singing and dancing around the bonfire in the long and chilly night. It is also celebrated by making khichdi in states of UP and Bihar.

Those mouth-watering sesame and jaggery laddoos are a speciality of Makar Sankranti many of us can’t wait to relish but did you know that consuming sesame and jaggery during this time is associated with numerous health benefits this delicious combination has to offer including the warmth it provides to our body due to its hot potency? Not only does it help us stay active in the cold winter but also provides many antioxidants and minerals like iron and calcium that keep us healthy and energized.

While Assam celebrates the harvest festival as Bihu, in South Indian states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, this period of transition is celebrated as Pongal, which is the name of the traditional delicacy prepared by boiling new harvest of rice with milk and adding jaggery to it. Honouring and decorating cattle, especially cows are also an important ritual followed during the celebrations of Pongal in addition to the preparation of traditional delicacies, and offering them to the almighty.

(The author is a writer with The Art of Living organisation)

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