(Pramod Bhosle offers some glimpses into the Makar Sankranti festival with pictures)
India is a land of festivals and January commenced with the celebration of Makar Sankranti on January 15 this year.
Makar Sankranti is a major harvest festival celebrated across the country. When the sun moves from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn in mid-January, it commemorates the beginning of the harvest season. The movement of the earth from one zodiac sign into another is called "Sankranti" and as the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac, known as "Makar" in Hindi, so the festival is named "Makar Sankranti".
It is one of the few Hindu Indian festivals which is usually celebrated on a fixed date, January 14 every year. But this year, it was celebrated on January 15 because of the leap year.
Makar Sankranti is also considered as the beginning of an auspicious phase in Indian culture. This day marks the beginning of warmer and longer days compared to the nights, and beginning of a new harvest or spring season. As per tradition, farmers serve the first dish to the cattle and later to the families.
The festival is celebrated across the country but under various names. In South India, Makar Sankranti is known as "Pongal" while North India celebrates by lighting a bonfire, known as "lohri", in a symbolic gesture to burn away all evils. In Maharashtra, people exchange "Til Gul", sweets made of jaggery and sesame seeds, and greet each other with the words "Til Gul ghya, goad goad bola (accept these sweets and be sweet in your speech)". The women in Maharashtra also hold get-togethers called "Haldi-Kunku". The essence of the celebrations is to forget past harsh feelings and to start afresh and to have sweetness prevail in all dealings. The harvest festival is celebrated with much fervour by the tribals, primarily the agrarian community.
Devotees take a dip in the holy rivers, and the day is also celebrated by flying kites.