History & Culture

A toast to the sun: How the harvest festivals are celebrated in the hinterlands


All over the country, the harvest festival is a celebration of abundance and a time to thank Mother Earth. We ask our food providers in the hinterlands about how they mark the day

Bikash Pratim Buragohain

Farmer from Barpathar

in Upper Assam

In Assam, the day before bhogali bihu or magh bihu is called Uruka — community feasting by a bonfire.

Families get together and contribute to the meal that is to be cooked: not by way of money, but meat, fish, rice, vegetables or anything grown and bred by us.

That night, the men cook out in the open, while the women and children sit by the fire and sing songs, play games or engage in marathon pitha-making sessions.

Assamese pithas like til pitha (made of sticky rice), gheela pitha (made with jaggery and rice flour), narikolor laru (coconut laddoo) and poka laru (laddoos made with rice flour and jaggery and hard as stone). It is a night of revelry, as we get together to celebrate our harvest and take stock of what could have gone better. With every farmer’s barn full, we do not hesitate to feed as many people as possible.

Once the food is prepared, we dine inside a bhela ghor (a temporary house made of leftover dried straws and banana leaves). Those who do not make the bhela ghor prepare the meji by arranging logs of fire wood.

The following day is called magh bihu. Before sunrise, everyone in our household takes a bath, our houses are cleansed and doors and windows are opened for ‘goodness’ to flow in.

A toast to the sun: How the harvest festivals are celebrated in the hinterlands

The sutal or the front yard gets a fresh coating of cow dung and mud and then we offer our respect to the bhela ghor by lighting an earthen lamp inside it, before setting it on fire with offerings of til, rice and dubori bon to show our gratitude to the field and the sky for the good year that went by and for the year to come.

Following this, we sit for another round of feasting or jolpan — Assamese breakfast of homemade cereal made of rice like muri, akhoi, hurum, xandoh, or sira. These are best enjoyed with curd and juliya gur (a runny form of jaggery which is almost like caramel). We set the curd in earthen pots.

Our main breakfast is followed with homemade snacks and pithas. Two must-haves are tubers like kaath alu (air potato) and kosu pura (roasted colocasia).

The rest of the day goes in visiting friends and family, or taking part in the village games.

This festival also marks the beginning of our planning for the coming ploughing season, saving and exchanging seeds.

As told to Prabalika M Borah


M Malar Mannan

Farmer, jallikattu champion, and bull-rearer from

Alanganallur village in Tamil Nadu

In rural Tamil Nadu, you know it is Pongal time when you see a fresh coat of limewash on the walls of houses. We limewash our homes, use kaavi (a red pigment) highlights wherever necessary, a couple of days leading up to the festival. The night before, a small bunch of bright yellow aavaram flowers (Senna auriculata) and white koorai flowers (Aerva lanata) are suspended at the doorway.

The heroes of the big day are farm animals; cows and bulls, especially. They play a key role in agriculture and toil in our fields all through the year. On Pongal day, we pay them our obeisance. They are like our children. We bathe the animals, apply turmeric paste on their bodies, decorate their faces with kumkum pottu, garland them. We tie flowers around the feet of cows and salangai (brass bells) for bulls.

A toast to the sun: How the harvest festivals are celebrated in the hinterlands

Members of the household, bedecked in new clothes, gather around a makeshift stove made of stacked bricks or stones at dawn. This time of the year is when farmers have money on them, and hence, they spend it on clothes and good food. On the stove, set up outdoors in front of the doorway, sits a clay pot that bubbles with a heady concoction of milk, just-harvested rice, toor dal, jaggery, and ghee. This dish, the star of the season, is first offered on a banana leaf to the sun. We worship the sun and hence offer him the dish made from the first harvest of the season.

The cows and bulls are fed next, followed by the children and then adults. We then distribute the pongal among our neighbours. Festivities last for three days. The best part is, farm animals are untied and allowed to graze freely, as much as they please. They meet their friends, run about. Everyone is happy.

As told to Akila Kannadasan

Watch | All about Jallikattu

B Gangadharamurthy

Manager, Grameena Angadi, which markets rural artisans’ work in Karnataka

We call the time during Sankranti suggi kala. Harvest is a time of happiness for farmers, after many months of hard work of planting and growing the crops.

In the villages of Karnataka, the celebrations begin in the morning. New clothes are worn, the cow is cleaned, fed (till its stomach is full!), decorated and a special puja is done. Games are played, such as the one which involves making the cow jump over fire. A torana made of rice grains still in their husks is hung at the doorways of houses and even the rangoli drawn in front of houses has elements of what has been harvested. Of course, it is compulsory that yellu bella (a mix of sesame seeds, jaggery, dry coconut or copra, groundnuts and fried gram) is made, for neighbours to give and receive from each other.

A toast to the sun: How the harvest festivals are celebrated in the hinterlands

There is a saying, “yellu bella kottu olle mathadu”. It refers to the good wishes and blessings people give each other on this day, along with the yellu bella and sugarcane. This is a time of sowhara (harmony). Yellu bella has many health benefits and after so many months of hard work, the farmers need the energy they get by eating it. It is something made only during Sankranti, by all families.

As told to Aparna Narrain

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 1:29:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/magh-bihu-pongal-sankranti-suggi-kala/article30523020.ece

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