Makara Sankranti marks the beginning of the new year when the sun transitions into longer days and moves to the zodiac Capricorn. The festival is celebrated to pay tribute to the harvest gods for the bounty received when all the hard work of the preceding seasons pays off.
“Indian festivals are celebrated both according to lunar and solar cycles, but Sankranti is the only festival celebrated throughout India with different names according to the solar cycle of the Hindu calendar,” says Vishalakshi Padmanabhan of Buffalo Back Collective dealing with sustainable farm produce that supports farmers directly without middlemen. Buffalo Back has put together the season’s classic ellu-bella with ingredients that are “totally organic, slow roasted and meticulously mixed in small batches.”
Colourful sakre-acchu (moulded sugar toffee) usually accompanies ellu-bella but Buffalo Back has made jaggery toffees instead just to make them healthier. And in keeping withthe Sankranti adage — ellu bella tindu olle maataadi (eat good, speak good) the Collective sends sweet notes with every order on request.
“Our festival dishes were well thought out to tackle seasonal changes,” says dietician Sudha Hegde, who has presented papers on ‘Nutrition in Festive Dishes’ at national health seminars. “The health benefits and stories behind each item make Sankranti celebrations timeless. Sesame kept the body warm, jaggery aided digestion, coconut helped keep the pace of metabolism in check, while the peanuts and roasted gram brought n proteins — every item in ellu-bella serves to boost the body’s immunity.”
For engineering student Nandini Gowda of Mandya, hailing from a farming family, the hustle and bustle of Sankranti is very real with the preparation of ellu-bella and sakre-acchu (sculpting birds and fruits with sugar), splicing sugarcane into small pieces and the plucking of fresh coconuts. She remembers how friends and family gather round a bonfire singing folksongs, ‘Suggi Kaala higgi banditu’ and sharing stories, all the while snacking on boiled chickpea in leaf bowls, and of course, ellu-bella.
Typically, ellu-bella comprise sesame seeds, roasted groundnut, jaggery and coconut slivers cut into small bits, fried gram, sugar balls and jeerige mithai (candied cumin seeds). So what makes the ellu-bella at Srinivasa Condiments or Subbamma Angadi in Gandhi Bazaar so popular? “We make it affordable as it’s prepared by needy women we’ve employed; we charge ₹260 per kilo. This year we began online orders and the response has been great,” says Raghavendra Karthik, son of KV Anantha Rao, and grandson of Subbamma, the reason behind Subbamma Angadi.
Necessity, the mother of re-invention
Over the years, enterprising women have taken the sustainable trail to procuring, preparing and packaging ellu-bella and sakre acchu. Add to this online orders via phone and social media, and the job gets done n a far more eco-friendly manner.
M.S. Aruna Rao of Girinagar began Bellikirana Creations to make eco-friendly pouches, boxes and bags for Sankranti seven years ago, when she found herself disgusted by the unending use of plastic to distribute Sankranti goodies. “The number of boxes and covers ran into lakhs every season! My focus was to make everyone’s Sankranti trail plastic-free!” says Aruna, talking about her decision to to electrical engineering and take up a crafts-based business. “In 2016, I started with cotton pouches made by talented women; today with awareness on the rise, I have added baskets, boxes and trays made from Korai grass and palm leaf. These are environmentally safe, easy to use long-lasting material that can be re-purposed. I source them from coastal and river-bed villages of Tamil Nadu and Kerala where I help empower women through employment,” says Aruna.
“It’s a package with numerous options that can be customised,” she says, adding that her bags come with the best of Kannada and English couplets integral to the spirit of Sankranti.
Call 89718 00223 for orders.
Dream come true
Born in Maagala village in Bellary district, though Lalitha Sastry was brought up in a household of educationists and dramatists, the five-mile walk to her school made it difficult to balance domestic responsibilities, despite excelling in sports and studies. After passing out from class VIII, Lalitha began helping her grandmother Yedhalli Sabavva cook festive meals at the nearby Narasimha temple. Soon enough, preparing sajji roti (bajra), jolada roti (jowar), badnekaai yenngai, besan laddu, antinunde, saarina pudi, huli pudi and other dishes for hundreds seemed no different than cooking for her family.
While Lalitha’s passion for cooking and resulting praise from family and friends remained undiminished over the last four decades, she wanted to reach out to more. “I started making Baananthi lehya, Cobri-khaara and Antinunde for women’s post-delivery health. Today, my daughters Radhika and Kavya Shastry, as well as son Pramod Shastry and daughter-in-law Anu are taking my cooking to the next level. It’s helping me realise my dream from when I was a little village girl,” says Lalitha over phone.
59-year-old Lalitha’s yearning for an identity of her own, helped her expand her repertoire to cater to every festival over the last one year. “This year’s Sankranti is extra special as we flag-off ‘Lalli’s Foodz – Temple of Flavours’ officially with ellu-bella, sakre-achchu and shenga (peanut) holige made with my own recipes that go back to my teen years,” she says.
Her daughter Kavya, a graphic designer, says online orders are packed in sugarcane waste bagasse containers, while smaller quantities come in sturdy paper cups. Ellu-bella costs ₹408 per kg. Orders can be placed on 89047 72324.