Kites dotted the sky in Indian cities and people feasted on sweets and took holy dips in the rivers as they celebrated the annual harvest festival Thursday in diverse forms of Pongal, Makar Sankranti, and Bhogali Bihu, marking the transition from winter season to spring.
The day also heralded the auspicious cycle of an over three-month long Mahakumbh Mela that occurs once in 12 years in the Hindu holy city of Haridwar in Uttarakhand. An estimated five million people thronged the banks of the Ganga at Haridwar for a ritual bathing supposed to cleanse one’s sins.
Devouts also flocked to the annual Ganga Sagar fair in West Bengal and Prayag Sangam in Uttar Pradesh to take a holy dip before worshipping the rising sun.
Celebrations, however, turned into a tragedy at Ganga Sagar where six women and a child were killed and 12 people injured in a stampede to board a boat to go for the holy dip in the Ganga.
Called Makar Sankranti in northern India, the festival is known as Bhogali Bihu in Assam and Pongal in Tamil Nadu. It marks the transition of the sun from Makar (Tropic of Capricorn) towards the equator on its celestial path.
In northern India, the day was marked by feasting on traditional preparations of ‘tilkut’ (til and jaggery) and ‘chud lai’ (flattened rice and jaggery), yogurt and ‘khichri’ (cooked with newly—harvested rice).
In Gujarat, the day saw the start of Uttarayan festival with people gathering on their terraces and in open grounds to fly kites. A range of food items like ‘undhiyu’, ‘jalebis’, ‘laddoos’ and ‘chikki’ were prepared in homes and feasted upon by the revellers.
Towns and villages in Andhra Pradesh wore a festive look with colourful kites, rangolis, decorated bulls and cock fights. The three—day Sankranti festival began with Bhogi where bonfires were lit on the streets with household waste.
Tamils began the four—day festival of Pongal with much fervour. Every household greeted people with rangolis at their entrance. People wore new clothes and worshipped the rain, sun and farm animals.
The word Pongal, which literally means ‘boiling over’, refers to rice cooked in milk and with jaggery. The main dish — Chakarai Pongal — is made with rice, jaggery and Bengal gram, all boiled in milk. Two varieties of Pongal — the salty one known as ‘ven pongal’ and the sweet one known as ‘Sarkkarai pongal’ — are prepared on the second day.
In Kerala, the Sabarimala temple witnessed an unprecedented rush of pilgrims, who gathered to witness the Makara Jyothi or the celestial light on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.
Bhogali Bihu marked the end of the harvesting season in Assam. Bird fights, a major event of Bihu celebrations in Assam, were held on a grand scale with the locals of Hajo preparing for the annual event with tremendous enthusiasm.
Some of the mouth-watering delicacies served during Bihu are rice cakes, til pitha, ghila pitha, Xutuli Pitha, Sunga Pitha and Tekeli Pitha, sweet snacks like Tilor Laru, Narikolor Laru and rice—based snacks Bora Saul, Komal Saul, Chira, Muri and Akhoi served with curd and jaggery.
The day is marked by preparations out of the newly-harvested rice in West Bengal and Orissa as well -- with people looking forward to sweets like Puli Pitha and Patishapta.