Come January and it is time to celebrate. All over India, people gather to celebrate not only a fruitful harvest, but the wealth of goodness bestowed upon them. In North India, people celebrate Lohri and Makara Sankranti, in the west Uttarayan, in Tamil Nadu it is Pongal and there is Magha Bihu in the east. All over the country, there is joy and happiness as people gather together to celebrate the good times.
January is an important month in most parts of India, as we celebrate a good harvest.
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.
(A commonly sung chorus)
While most of us relegate our “thanksgiving” to before lunch time at school, India’s various cultures dedicate an entire day or even days to thank nature for its resources and bounty. And that time is now, in most regions like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab.
Called Thai Pongal, the harvest/ thanksgiving festival is timed around the winter solstice and also marks the beginning of the auspicious Tamil month of Thai. Here, the festival is celebrated for four days:
Bhogi pandigaiPongal, Maatu pongal, and Kanum pongal.
The celebrations are similar to that of Tamil Nadu. The four-day celebrations include Bhogi, Makara Sankranti (Pedda Panduga), Kanuma and Pedda Panduga.
On the first day besides burning old things, gifts are also exchanged between family members and employer-employees. The second day is spent in praying and making offerings of food to God. The third day is dedicated to animals especially cows. The worship of cows is an important feature of this day. The last day is a day celebrated with friends and family, and a day to thank those who have helped in day-to-day activities.
Celebrated as Bihu in Assam, it is a set of three festivals celebrated in a year, coinciding with three different phases of farming. Bohaag (mid April), Kaati (mid October) and Magh (mid January). Bohag Bihu is the most popular of the three — marking the beginning of the harvest season, while Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu marks its end. After the harvest, the people get together as a community in temporarily erected houses made with thatch and dry plantation leaves known as Bhela Ghar or Meji Ghar for an overnight celebration with singing, dancing and feast. Early the next morning, a fire is lit with these materials. Traditional Assamese sweets like Laru and Pitha are made and greetings are exchanged among the people of the community.
In the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Delhi and Jammu, the harvest festival of Lohri is observed in January, on a day when the month (according to the regional calendar) in which the winter solstice takes place ends. It marks the end of winter and the harvest of the rabi crops. The festival is celebrated by lighting bonfires around which people gather and toss sesame seeds, peanuts, sweets and puffed rice into the fire. Everyone sings folk songs and do the Bhangra dance. In the morning, children go from door to door singing about Dulha Bhatti, Punjab’s version of Robin Hood and demanding their loot — money or eatables.
In the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and many others, the harvest festival is celebrated as Makar Sankranti, marking the transition of the sun into the zodiac path of the Capricorn or Makar. Besides the exchange of sweets and prayers the festival is marked by kite-flying. The tradition is so famous, especially in Gujarat, that it is now an annual fixture for kite enthusiasts and has come to be known as the International Kite Festival. The International Kite Festival is celebrated every year around January 14 at Ahmedabad, and this year marks the 25 year of the festival.