Lohri

Religious Indian Festivals in January.

Lohri

It marks the beginning of the end of winter, coming of spring and the new year. The festival is traditionally associated with the harvest of the rabi crops. The traditional time to harvest sugarcane crops is January, therefore, Lohri is seen by some to be a harvest festival. And thus, Punjabi farmers see the day after Lohri (Maghi) as the financial New Year.

There are some interesting socio-cultural and folk-legends connected with Lohri. According to the cultural history of Punjab, Bhatti, a Rajput tribe during the reign of Akbar, inhabited parts of Rajasthan, Punjab, and Gujarat (now in Pakistan). Dulla Bhatti, Raja of Pindi Bhattian, was put to death by the Mughal king for revolting against him. The tribal mirasis (street singers) trace the history of the tribe and interestingly, claim Maharaja Ranjit Singh as one of its scions.

Dulla Bhatti, like Robin Hood, robbed the rich and gave to the poor. The people of the area loved and respected him. He once rescued a girl from kidnappers and adopted her as his daughter. His people would remember their hero every year on Lohri. Groups of children moved from door to door, singing the Dulla Bhatti folk-song: “Dulla Bhatti ho! Dulle ne dhi viyahi ho! Ser shakar pai ho!” (Dulla gave his daughter a kilo of sugar as a marriage gift).

Lohri is essentially a festival dedicated to fire and the sun god. It is the time when the sun transits the zodiac sign Makar (Capricorn), and moves towards the north. Gur rewri, peanuts and popcorns are the three munchies associated with this festival. Besides these, in Punjab villages, it is a tradition to eat gajjak, sarson da saag and makki di roti on the day of Lohri. It is also traditional to eat ’til rice’–sweet rice made with jaggery (gur) and sesame seeds

Makar Sankranti

Also known as Makara Sankranti is celebrated in various parts of the Indian subcontinent to observe the day which marks the shift of the sun into ever-lengthening days. The festival is a seasonal observance as well as a religious celebration.

Though extremely popular as Makar Sankranti, the festival is predominantly a harvest festival and is celebrated throughout India, from north to south and east to west. While Makar Sankranti is most popular in West India, down south, the festival is known as Pongal and in the north, it is celebrated as Lohri. Uttarayan, Maghi, Khichdi are some other names of the same festival.

Makar Sankranti is the festival of til-gul where sesame and jaggery laddoos or chikkis are distributed among all. The festival Makara Sankranthi is a solar event making it one of the few Hindu festivals which fall on the same date in local calendars every year: 14 January, with some exceptions when the festival is celebrated on 15 January.

Makar Sankranti is believed to be a time for peace and prosperity. The day is regarded as important for spiritual practices and accordingly people take a holy dip in rivers, especially Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery. The bathing is believed to wash away sins. Makar or Makara Sankranti is celebrated in many parts of South Asia with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the region.

Pongal

Thai Pongal is the first month of the Tamil Almanac, and Pongal is a dish of sweet concoction of rice, moong dal, jaggery and milk. This festival is celebrated by one and all as it is non-relevance to any religious faith. The whole Tamil population of the world celebrate it without any differences. Therefore, it is widely known as “Tamil Thai Pongal” or the “Festival of the Tamils”. It is celebrated on the first day of the month Thai of the Tamil calendar.

Pongal is celebrated in Tamil Nadu and almost all through South India. It is a four-day harvest festival and it is kind of thanksgiving to nature. The first day is celebrated in the honour of Lord Indra, the God of rain. On the second day rice is cooked in milk in an earthen pot outside the house. The third day of pongal is Pongal for cows and on the fourth day women perform ritual before bathing and pray for their brothers to prosper.

Thai Pongal generally includes customs & celebrations that are the expression of jubilation over life’s renewal. On Thai Pongal, the family begins the day early. The traditional Pongal (rice pudding) is prepared in the front garden which is pre-prepared for this ceremonious cooking. A flat square pitch is made and decorated with kolam drawings, and it is exposed to the direct sun light. A fire wood hearth will be set up using three bricks. The cooking begins by putting a clay pot with water on the hearth.

A senior member of the family conducts the cooking and the rest of the family assists him or her or watches the event. When the water has boiled the rice is put into the pot – after a member the family ceremoniously puts three handful of rice in first. The other ingredients of this special dish are chakkarai (brown cane sugar) or katkandu (sugar candy), milk (cow’s milk or coconut milk), roasted green gram (payaru), raisins, cashew nuts and few pods of cardamom. When the meal is ready it is first put on a banana leaf and the family pray for few minutes to thank the nature sprit, the sun and farmers.

Makara Vilakku

Also known as Mandala pooja at Sabarimala is a a seven-day festival which begins on Makara Sankranthi. “Makara Jyothi“means the light of capricorn in Indian languages, Makara is the name of a Zodiac sign. In Sanskrit it is known as “Makar” and in English as “Capricorn”, “Jyothi” means light in Sanskrit. Every year the sun appears to move from one Zodiac constellation to another because of the revolution of earth around it; in Sanskrit it is called “Makara Sankranti”. It usually happens on 14 January every year and various Hindu Festivals are celebrated in connection with this. One of the Temples where a large number of devotees come to worship on 14 January is Sabarimala, a shrine located in thick rain forest in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala on “Makar Sankranti” pilgrims gathers at the Sabarimala Temple precincts to worship this divine star. It is believed that Lord Ayyappa shows His presence in the form of this celestial lighting and blesses his devotees.

“Makara Vilakku” is a flame appears thrice on the Ponnambalamedu, whereas” Makara Jyothi” a celestial star appears on the sky.The huge crowd of pilgrims that witnesses the “Makara Jyothi” has been on the rise every year.

Uttarayan

Also, popularly known as International Kite festival is a uniquely Gujarati phenomenon, when the skies over most cities of the state fill with kites from before dawn until well after dark. The festival marks the days in the Hindu calendar when winter begins turning to summer. Kites of all shapes and sizes are flown, and the main competition is to battle nearby kite-flyers to cut their strings and bring down their kites. For this, people find their favored kite-makers who prepare strong resilient kite bodies with springy bamboo frames and kite-paper stretched to exactly the right tension. Lastly, the kites are attached to a spool (or firkin) of manja, special kite-string coated with a mixture of glue and glass to be as sharp as possible for cutting strings of rival kites Uttarayan is celebrated across Gujarat, with major centers of kite-flying in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Nadiad, among others.

Since 1989, the city of Ahmedabad has hosted the International Kite Festival as part of the official celebration of Uttarayan, bringing master kite makers and flyers from all over the world to demonstrate their unique creations and wow the crowds with highly unusual kites. In past years, master kite makers from Malaysia have brought their wau-balang kites, llayang-llayanghave come from Indonesia, kite innovators from the USA have arrived with giant banner kites, and Japanese rokkaku fighting kites have shared the skies with Italian sculptural kites, Chinese flying dragons, and the latest high-tech modern wonders. A master kite maker and famous kite flyer Rasulbhai Rahimbhai of Ahmedabad trains of up to 500 kites on a single string have come to be a classic attraction

Basant Panchami

It is celebrated by hindus in India & Nepal to honor the Goddess of knowledge and art. The festival is a tribute to learning and music and observed in the traditional Hindu households in Bengal. Saraswati puja as the ceremony is popularly called in Bengal has evolved from prayers to an event enjoyed by the young and old. In New Delhi too, Vasant Panchami is a day to mark the beginning of the month of “Vasant” or “Basanta”. It is revival from the chill winter days to the mild summer mornings. The favorable weather in most parts of the country is doubles the spirit of enthusiasm among the young people. Vasant Panchami/ Saraswati Puja is celebrated on the fifth day of the month of “Magh” and is widely celebrated in west Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar. On Basant Panchami, schools and educational institutes in many parts of India celebrate Saraswati Puja. Kite flying competitions are also a defining element of Basant Puja. It is also considered auspicious by many to wear yellow on Basant Panchami day.