There is a festive spirit in the air as India celebrates its harvest festival. I always say there are many Indias in India and so, here we are all celebrating the same festival in gusto but with different names and traditions. In most of the country, it is called Makar Sankranti but in some states like Tamil Nadu, its called Pongal, Lohri in Punjab, Bihu in Assam, Uttarayan in Gujarat – just to name a few. Each community has different traditions and everyone celebrates the festival with great food.
As I write this post, am in Chennai where Pongal is celebrated by well, of course cooking and eating pongal among other traditions. Pongal is one of my favourite breakfast dishes and almost every ingredient here – rice, lentils, ginger, turmeric and other spices are freshly harvested.
The sweeter version of Pongal has jaggery in it as well. Pots of pongal are cooked and it overflows with joy. Every one pays a tribute to the Sun God besides celebrating and decorating the cattle, the cows and the bulls which are the farmer’s best companions.
Walking around the markets, I see tons of sugarcanes and turmeric – these two in many ways symbolise the very essence of Pongal. Sugarcane represents joy and turmeric is auspicious – the leaves tied around the Pongal panai or the pot where the Pongal is usually cooked represents prosperity.
While Tamil Nadu celebrates Pongal for over four days-( its one of the biggest festivals for the state,) the rest of India, mainly Karnataka, Andhra, Maharashtra celebrate it as Makar Sankranti . Its a solar event as well, where the sun makes its transition from the Tropic of Capricorn towards the Tropic of Cancer, moving from South to North. Astrologically, it also marks the entry of the sun into the Zodiac sign of Makara or the Capricorn.
Having lived in Bangalore for a decade now , I am now a bit familiar with the traditions here as well. Every Makar Sankranti, friends and relatives gift each other a packet of ” Yellu Bela” which is a combination of sesame seeds, jagery, pieces of dry coconut and groundnuts . Every festive tradition in India is represented by food and its only natural that a harvest festival should be a combination of all the grains, vegetables that are harvested .
So, irrespective of whichever part of India you are in – eat, drink and be merry as this is the season to celebrate.
Pongolo Pongal, as we say in my native hometown, Tamil Nadu !