Guwahati, Jan 14: Being a culturally diverse country, India is also considered to be the land of festivals. Rightfully so, when a particular event is celebrated in various forms and has imbibed itself into the local tradition.
Magh Bihu is celebrated in the Assamese month of Magh (i.e., mid-January). The celebrations start on the last day of the month of 'pooh' in the Assamese calendar and the celebrations continue for about a week. This marks the time when the winter ends. It is also called Domahi or the convergence of two months. This day is considered auspicious in the Hindu lunar year and is known as Makar Sankranti, i.e., the day when the sun begins its northward journey or Uttarayan. This day is also marked by worshiping the sun in various parts of the country in the form of different festivals such as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Lohri in Punjab and Uttarayan in Gujarat.
As an agrarian country, the harvest season is celebrated at different times throughout the year, owing to the diversity in climate and differences in the staple crop of the region.
The first yield of the new crops is the joyful time of the year and is widely celebrated by farmers throughout the country. Moreover, the celebrations do not remain confined to the rural areas and are also celebrated by the urban populace, albeit in different ways.
Magh or Bhogali Bihu
Well known as the 'festival of feast', the Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu is celebrated by the people of Assam with the spirit of harmony and togetherness. Following the harvest, the Bhoral (granaries) are filled with surplus food and the idea is to thank the gods for the blessing of a good harvest. Community feasts are organised and various forms of Jolpan (sweets and savouries) are prepared.
The festival begins with Uruka or the Bihu Eve. While women prepare food items like- Chira, Pitha, Laru, Curd for the following day of celebrations, the men folks remain engaged in preparing makeshift huts or Bhelaghar, which are built using bamboo, leaves and thatch.
A bonfire known as Meji is lit early in the morning of Bihu and prayers are offered to the gods. Later the huts are burned down and people immerse in the festive mood by taking blessings from their elders, feasting and playing traditional games.
The main highlight of the festival is the various delicacies being prepared, Pithas being quintessential which are made of rice powder. Rice is the staple food of the region and Pithas are being prepared with sesame, jaggery and Coconut.
The Makar Sankranti is considered to be one of the auspicious occasions celebrated in the country. The rituals, belief and significance of the festival are somewhat the same but is celebrated with distinct names.
According to the Gregorian calendar, it is celebrated across India annually on the same date. The date, unlike other Indian festivals, remains constant because it is based on the movement of the sun and is hence determined as per the Hindu Solar calendar.
The festival marks the first day of the sun's transition into the sun sign Capricorn or Makara in Hindi. This also marks the end of the winter solstice.
The occasion also holds significance in the sense that an agricultural activity cannot sustain without sunlight, hence the worship of the Sun god holds prominence in this festival.
Among the rituals, while some observe this festival by flying kites, various communities come together and share sweets and laddoos made of sesame and jaggery. Though it is observed in a varied form, the spirit and the core remain the same.
Lohri is celebrated with great pomp and energy in the country, predominantly in Punjab. The farming community celebrates this as the harvesting season.
Lohri is celebrated a day prior to Makar Sankranti which is also known as Maghi as per the Hindu calendar.
Lighting bonfires, singing and dancing to folklores, exchanging gifts and relishing foods made of sesame and jaggery and other traditional foods like Gajak, Sarson da saag with Makki di roti, and groundnuts are some of the common scenes during the festival.
The significance of Lohri celebrations lies in celebrating the harvest festival every year, which marks the end of the winter season and the beginning of harvesting rabi crops.
Like the other harvest festivals of Indian Pongal is predominantly celebrated by the Tamil people all over the world. It is a religious, cultural, and social festival hosted as a thanks giving to the Sun god and the elements of nature for supporting agriculture.
This festival also marks the beginning of Uttarayan, the sun's northward journey for the next six months and is observed at the start of the Thai or Tai month according to the Tamil solar calendar.
The word 'Pongal' denotes "to boil, overflow", this resembles abundance and prosperity. Pongal is celebrated to express gratitude to God for providing a year-long good harvest. Along with this, Pongal is also named out of a sweet dish. It is made of rice, jaggery and milk.
The traditional dish is prepared from the newly harvested rice, which is offered to the Gods, cows and then shared by the family. Some of the festive scenes during this time includes decorating cows, ritual bathing and procession, decorating rice powder based kolam artworks, offering prayers and socialising.