At the Annual Winter Camp, Prithvi found out about harvest festivals in other parts of India. He also realised it was a time to give thanks for the good harvest.

“Brrr! It’s cold and I love it,” said Prithvi as he walked out of his tent. He wondered if he was the only one out and he saw four fellow campers sitting cosily by the bonfire. Little did he know that the night would become memorable and soon he would have friends for life.

Attending the Annual Winter Camp in Delhi had been his parents’ idea to help him make friends. A recluse and introvert, he preferred reading and made no effort to interact with anyone. And the only reason he walked up to the group that evening was because of the bonfire. The simmering fire helped keep them warm. They recollected how they would celebrate Sankranthi in Karnataka, Lohri in Punjab, Magh Bihu in Orissa, Uttarayan or Festival of Kites in Gujarat and Rajasthan when they were back home.

Prithvi looked forward to the four-day break he got for Pongal. Ram, who was from Bhubaneshwar in Odisha asked Prithvi how he celebrated the harvest festival?

“It’s a four-day affair. It’s elaborate and we start with Bhogi on day one. People get rid off old items by burning them and purchase new ones to start the year ahead. The main day is the second day, and we worship the sun god — Surya and make a sweet dish called Pongal. It is made with rice, milk and jaggery. The third day is called Mattu Pongal and we worship cattle as they help us with the agriculture. The last day or Kanum Pongal is a time when we all get together and celebrate by going out and exchanging gifts,” said Prithvi.

Song and dance

“Wow! That’s elaborate indeed,” exclaimed Balvinder who hailed from Ludhiana in Punjab. “In fact we celebrate Lohri around the bonfire. Women dance to the beat of the dhol and sing popular folk songs. They sing their gratitude for the good harvest. We also celebrate the Robin hood of Punjab — Dulha Bhatti at this time. The Lohri feast includes makki-di-roti and sarson-da-saag. As kids we go to the houses in our neighbourhood to collect our ‘loot’ that is, traditional sweets and snacks like gajak, rewri, til, moongphali, jaggery and money,” he added.

Ram told his friends about Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu. “Bhogali’ means ‘feasting’ in Assamese and is a two-day festival dedicated to Lord Agni — the fire god. Uruka is the first day of the Bhogali Bihu festival and on this day young men construct mejis with bamboo and wood pieces in open spaces. We also hold a feast on Uruka night, and fish delicacies are the main dishes”, he said. “The next day is the Magh Bihu day, and the meji is lit and a lavish feast is held yet again. The ashes of the meji which are later scattered on the farmlands is said to increase fertility. We have another important day called Bohag Bihu but that’s celebrated three months later on the same day,” Ram added.

“Talk about Sankranthi and the first thing that a Kannadiga would remember is sugarcane,” exclaimed Usha. “Stacks of sugarcane sticks piled up in the market announces the arrival of the festival. The day before, we clean up our houses and decorate the windows and doors and the threshold with rangoli and green mango leaves. The fun element is when we get to eat the sugarcane. Another traditional feature is the exchange of yellu — it’s a mix of fried sesame, peanuts and gram with jaggery and dried coconut. The exchange is called yellu balla. It’s a feast as we gorge on rice and moong dal kichdi, curries with beans, sweet potato and sweet pumpkin.”

“We have read about Uttarayan or Festival of Kites in Gujarat and Rajasthan but tell us something we don’t know,” said Prithvi getting into the mood of the discussion. “It’s the biggest festival of the year,” said Reena, her eyes lighting up. “During the festival, yummy food like undhiyu — a mixed vegetable of yam and beans and jalebi is served. The next day is even better as illuminated kites tukals dot the night sky.”

It was late when they said their good-byes as they were to leave the next morning. They took back with them memories and email ids to exchange pictures of the celebrations and letters, and a promise to meet again next year.