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Sankranti - a festival for harvest, kites and the sun

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Date14 Jan 2022

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The Sankranti Festival is celebrated all over India. Everywhere it is known by different names and each region celebrates with its own customs and traditions. This Hindu festival is one of the few that is based on the sun calendar. Therefore, it falls on 14 or 15 January every year. The occasion to celebrate Sankranti is the solstice, when the sun turns into the zodiac sign Capricorn (Makara). The cold season is over and new planting and harvesting seasons begin with this day. Therefore, the sun god Surya is worshipped in many places.

Mythologically, the festival goes back to the victory of the goddess Sankranti over the demon Sankarasur or Kinkarasur. The festival therefore gives rise to reconciliation and thus marks the spiritual development and the cohesion of society. In India, Sankranti is one of the most important Hindu festivals. However, it is also celebrated in other countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Malaysia.

The festival is a family celebration and all over the country you will see people bathing in one of the holy rivers, going to fairs, flying kites, lighting bonfires, decorating cattle and making pilgrimages to temples.

Depending on the region, the festival has a different focus and therefore different names. In Tamil Nadu, the harvest festival Pongal is celebrated for four days to celebrate the harvest and wealth for the next year. Of particular importance is the dish Pongal, which consists of rice and milk and must be boiled over, indicating abundance for the next year. In addition, colourful rangolis are painted infront of the houses and cows and bulls are decorated and paraded through the streets to pay tribute.

In Maharashtra, Makar Sankranti is also a harvest festival, mainly celebrating the harvest of sugarcane. Sesame seeds and jaggery (made from sugarcane) are used to make the sweet tilgul. This is distributed to neighbours and friends to bury disputes and strengthen harmony despite possible differences. While distributing the sweet, people traditionally say "Tilgul ghya goad bola", which means "Take this sweet tilgul and speak sweet".

In Gujarat, the kite season starts with Makar Sankranti. Everywhere you see the most beautiful colourful kites flying. Whether from the rooftops in Ahmedabad or in the white salt plains of Kutch, kite flying is a huge event. Many make their own kites and then have little fights with other kite fliers to fetch their kites from the sky. Of course, the International Kite Festival is also held here in Gujarat.

In Punjab, the Lohri Festival is celebrated because fire as a divine aspect is the focus here. Offerings of rice and sweets are made to the fire at large bonfires to celebrate the end of the cold season. The popular folk dance Bhangra is danced with much fervour throughout Punjab to mark the occasion.

In West Bengal, the festival is celebrated as Ganga Sagar Mela. The devotees gather at the river Ganges and let small boats with candles glide on the water - a truly magical sight. On this day, a bath in the Ganges is considered to have special healing powers.

If you want to experience the festival in India, it is best to celebrate with a Hindu family, because this way you will get unique insights that you would never get on the street. We recommend staying in homestays when you travel. To see kite flying, travel to northern India, such as Gujarat. If you want to see the festivities of the harvest festivals, we recommend southern India, e.g. Tamil Nadu.

Have you ever experienced a Sankranti celebration in any part of India? Tell us about it in the comments or write directly to [email protected]!

Written by: Tanja Holbe

Cover Photo Credit: Prachi Palwe - Unsplash

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