New Delhi/Kolkata/ Chennai, Jan 15: The spirit of festivity has gripped India as the country gears up to celebrate the occasion of Makar Sankhranti and Pongal over the weekend. Makar Sankranti is being observed on Saturday while Pongal will be celebrated by the nation on Sunday.
Makar Sankranti or the harvest festival is celebrated in every part of the country in various names by the Hindus. Dedicated to the sun deity, the festival has great significance with the movement of the sun.
According to the lunar calendar, when the sun moves from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, in the month of ‘Poush’ in mid-January, it marks the beginning of the harvest season and cessation of the northeast monsoon in South India. The movement of the earth from one zodiac sign into another is called ‘Sankranti’ and as the Sun moves into the Capricornzodiac known as ‘Makar’ in Hindi, this occasion is named as ‘Makar Sankranti’ in the Indian context. An interesting thing about the festival is of course the multiple names by which the festival is called in various parts of the nation.
The occasion is known by the name ‘Makar Sankranti’ in states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Sikkim, Jharkhand, Karnataka,Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Uttarakhand. Whereas, in Gujarat and Rajasthan the festival is called ‘Uttarayan’, down south in Tamil Nadu the festival is named Pongal’. ‘Maghi’ is the name by which the people in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, celebrates the pious occasion. On this very day, millions of pilgrims from all over India assemble in Ganga Sagar (the point where the river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal) to take a holy dip in the water and pray to Sun god.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Pratibha Devisingh Patil and Vice President Hamid Ansari wished the nation on the festive occassions. Pratibha Devisingh Patil said, "On the auspicious occasion of Makara Sankranti and Pongal, I express my greetings to all the people of India and wish them prosperity and happiness. These festivals are expressions of the emotional unity that is our nation's strength. May the celebrations reinforce the ties that bind us together as a nation, in peace and harmony," she said.
In his message, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that these harvest festivals are an occasion to recognize the immense contribution that our farmers make to the well-being of the country. “May these festivals bring prosperity, happiness and joy for all”, Singh said.
Vice President Hamid Ansari said: “ I greet the people of our country on the joyous occasion of Makara Sankranti and Pongal. These festivals are celebrated in various parts of the country with traditional fervour and gaiety and mark the beginning of ‘Uttarayana’ and harvest season. May these festivals bring peace, prosperity and happiness to the citizens of our country,” he said.
In West Bengal, the people rejoice this day by preparing a special sweet dish specially meant for this festival , named ‘Pithe’. At one side of India when people celebrate ’Makar Sankranti’, on the same day the in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu people celebrate ‘Pongal’. The word ‘Pongal’ in Tamil means "boiling over or spill over."
On this very day of celebration and merrymaking, people boil rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots. The rice is later garnished with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins. Infact, it is this tradition that gives the festival its name. The rice is traditionally cooked at sun rise and the moment the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of "Ponggalo Ponggal!", introduce freshly harvested rice grains in the pot and blow the sangu (a conch).
The people in Tamil Nadu consider it a good sign to watch the milk boil over as it marks good luck and prosperity. On this day, Tamilians decorate their house in ‘Kolam’ decorations (a traditional decoration specially for this day).
Food is an integral part of any Indian festival and this four day festival is no exception, the people of Tamil Nadu prepare variety of dishes on this day which includes savories and sweets such as 'vadai', 'murukku' and 'payasam'.