India celebrates harvest festival

Last Updated 14 January 2010, 09:59 IST

On Makar Sankranti, the day begins with the devout taking dips in holy rivers at places like Haridwar in the north, Ganga Sagar in the east and Prayag in the centre to worship the Sun God.

In Haridwar, millions of Hindus gathered to take the holy dip in Ganga Thursday, marking the commencement of Maha Kumbh.

The day was tinged with tragedy in West Bengal, where seven pilgrims on their way to Ganga Sagar -- the mouth of the Ganga -- were killed in a stampede, and nine more were injured.

Thousands make the annual pilgrimage to the mouth of the holy river to bathe on this day considered auspicious, and pray at the temple where Vedic sage Kapil was supposed to have meditated.

Called Makar Sankranti in northern India, the festival is known as Bhogali Bihu in Assam and Pongal in Tamil Nadu. It marks the transition of the Sun into Makar (Capricorn) on its celestial path.

In northern India, the day is marked by feasting on traditional preparations of jaggery with til and chidwa (flattened rice), yogurt and khichri (cooked with newly-harvested rice).
"We generally fast during Makar Sankranti and have khichri in the evening," said Delhi homemaker Sushila Sharma.

Kite flying is another important ritual that marks the day. In Gujarat, it is celebrated as the start of Uttarayan, when people gather on their terraces to fly kites.

Pongal is celebrated by Tamils in a big way. During the four-day festival, different varieties of rangoli are drawn in front of homes early in the morning.

The word Pongal, which literally means 'boiling over', refers to rice cooked in milk and jaggery. Two varieties of Pongal - the salty one known as 'ven pongal' and the sweet one known as 'Sarkkarai pongal' - are prepared on the second day. Besides the preparation of Pongal or the special sweet rice, the festival of Pongal is also the time to prepare some of the mouth-watering Tamil delicacies like Sakkarai Pongal, Payasam, Aval Payasam, Dal Payasam and Murukku.

Bhogali Bihu marks the end of the harvesting season in Assam.
"Some of the mouth watering delicacies served during Bihu are rice cakes, Til Pitha, Ghila Pitha, Xutuli Pitha, Sunga Pitha and Tekeli Pitha, sweet snacks like Tilor Laru, Narikolor Laru and rice-based snacks Bora Saul, Komal Saul, Chira, Muri and Akhoi served with curd and jaggery," said Sarmistha Dutta, a native of Assam.

"Early in the morning family members and friends gather near the Meji - a traditional V-shaped structure made out of hay from the harvested fields. They burn it and offer their prayers to the fire to mark the end of the harvesting season," Dutta added.
Several traditional games like buffalo-fight and cock-fight are organised in villages during the day.

The day is marked by preparations out of the newly-harvested rice in West Bengal and Orissa as well -- with people looking forward to sweets like Puli Pitha and Patishapta.

(Published 14 January 2010, 08:54 IST)

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