Sankranti is a festival that essentially marks the end of the month with the Winter Solstice. This indicates days will become longer. Although Indian festivals usually follow the Lunar calendar, Sankranti has traditionally followed the solar cycle. Generally, it falls on the 14th or 15th of January and is celebrated across India. People thank the Nature for her abundant resources and good produce during the winter harvest festival. As per a study, this festival is over 5000 years old in India.
No wonder the festival has evolved over time, over different regions, and over lifestyle and social changes. Hence the celebration varies as per different cultures within India. Interestingly, one of the common threads for celebrating Sankranti is making sweets. Very similar to “baking cake/ roasting turkey during Christmas”, Sankranti has some unique desserts. Strangely, these sweets are not prepared for any other festival throughout the year.
If you happen to be in India during this time of the year you can celebrate Sankranti based on the region you are located in.
⦁ Take a holy dip: Especially in Northern India, some rivers like the Ganga are considered sacred. So much so, the water of this holy river is used for all forms of rituals. Every 3 years, millions of people come to take a dip in Ganga on the auspicious day of Sankranti (called Makar Sankranti in this region). This goes on for 12 days on the banks of river Yamuna (a tributary of Ganga) and Ganga. This festival is called Kumbh Mela, now a global phenomenon. The holy dip promises that your sins will be washed away and you achieve salvation!
⦁ Wear new clothes: Unworn new clothes are considered “pure” and of course most people wear new clothes on the day of Sankranti.
⦁ Visit a temple/ perform rituals: People offer their prayers to the Harvest Gods and seek blessings for an upcoming successful year ahead. This practice varies per regions. For example, in the eastern part, people usually perform prayers at home, whereas in the southern regions, people mostly visit temples.
⦁ Fly a Kite: If you are in south India, you will find the sky colored with kites of various shapes and sizes. Don’t hold back, fly kites, but be prepared if your kites are “cut” by the
⦁ Make a Rangoli: Art and music are important components in all Indian celebrations. There are Sankranti special songs which people used to sing together. Some during prayers, others during celebration. One unique practice is making designs in front of homes using coloured powders or flowers. This signifies starting off the “new year” with decorations and colours. Guests are made welcome.
A typical Rangoli
⦁ Dance around the bonfire: Punjab’s Lohri is celebrated at night. They burn a ceremonial fire and dance around it with friends, neighbours, and relatives. A special sweet dish called Pinni is prepared.
⦁ Prepare and eat awesome desserts: I belong to eastern India and we celebrate Sankranti by performing some ceremonies, and making sweet dishes like Pithe, Puli, and Payesh. Most of these desserts are made using rice flour. Rice is the most important harvest produce in this region. One special note is instead of sugar, all the sweet dishes in Bengal prepared during this time include Date syrup. This being the harvest season for Dates, normal sugar is replaced with delicious date syrup called “Nolen Gur”.
⦁ Share your food! This practice is not typical for Sankranti but widely practiced. For many Indian festivals, food sharing is a phenomenon. As mentioned, the specially prepared food is exchanged between neighbors, relatives, family friends, and even strangers. You are likely to get awesome freebies if you visit a neighborhood sweet shop.
My experience with Sankranti is limited to cities. As expected, the rules are rigid or relaxed as per social constructs. In rural India, people follow extensive practices like fasting, eating vegetarian food, or only eating after offering prayers. In cities, with a cosmopolitan environment, sweets are available in shops. People go out to eat with their close ones.
The overarching symbolism of Sankranti celebration is saying “Thank you” to the Almighty/Nature/Universe. The winter harvest is very important for the tropical climate of India, as summers are harsh and heavy rains can spoil crops. So if you are in India
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