For sweet beginnings

For sweet beginnings

Harvest season

For sweet beginnings

Every year, ‘Makara Sankranthi’ marks the start of festivals in the new year. In Karnataka, ‘Sankranthi’ heralds the harvest season for the farmers. Also called ‘Suggi’, ‘Sankranthi’ is when the sons of the soil look forward to another year of good harvest. Celebrated widely across the state, the festival also signifies the end of winter and start of spring.

Astrologically, ‘Sankranthi’ is the time when the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac constellation. This festival usually falls in mid-January and marks the end of ‘dhanur maasa’, which begins during mid-December. ‘Dhanur maasa’ is conceived to be an inauspicious month, during which any other activity apart from worshipping God is not encouraged. This means that during this period, no marriages, house-warming ceremonies and any other form of celebration should take place.

Now, we all have grown up marking this festival by wearing traditional clothes and house-hopping, with platefuls of ‘yellu-bella’. But not many of us know its significance. ‘Yellu-bella’ is basically a mixture of ‘yellu’ (white sesame seeds), ‘bella’ (jaggery), peanuts and dry coconut. Not to forget, our plates also had ‘sakkere acchu’ (sugar candy) and small pieces of sugarcane. We essentially distribute this mixture to people in the hope of having a ‘sweet’ and good year ahead. Now you may wonder why we need the sugar candy and sugarcane when we already have a sweet mix. Sugar candy, in varied shapes, is to add that extra dash of sweetness to the festival and since sugarcane is grown in great numbers in Karnataka, we offer pieces of it to people.

In Karnataka, there’s a famous phrase associated with this festival: ‘Yellu-bella thindu, olle maath aadu’, which translates to ‘Eat this sweet mixture and speak only good’. On the face of it, the ‘yellu-bella’ custom is a means of keeping the inherent goodness in people alive. It reminds us that we need to strive to be better people in the new year. When you think of it, this particular food mixture isn’t the best in the sweet market. Why not eat ‘payasa’ or ‘besan laddoo’ to mark the festival? But you are forgetting that this is a harvest festival. By bringing together different agricultural produce of the State, we show our support to the farmers and also join them in their revelry.

This practice also has scientific reasoning to back it. Every element of this dish has health benefits, something that everyone wishes for at the start of a new year. For instance, sesame seeds are excellent sources of copper and manganese, which help reduce the pains in one’s body during winter. Our grandparents always recommended eating jaggery after a meal, as it has natural cleansing properties that aid digestion, especially during the chilly weather. Peanuts, on the other hand, are a good source of antioxidants and are often linked to good health of heart and longevity. ‘Yellu-bella’ is also appropriate for the seasons involved. Since winter still lingers, this mixture promises to give you lots of energy and sets the foundation of good health for the rest of the year.

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