Friday, January 13, 2017

The Feast of Makar Sankranti

Makar Sankranti is essentially a feast which is celebrated in various parts of India with joy and happiness in very different ways and with different mythological references. With Yule, the day of winter solstice, Sun marked the turning point of its return, but the time from the full expression of its strength and its heat was still far away.

Makar Sankranti was celebrated after the longest night of the year, which marked the rebirth of the sun that warmed the winter Earth as the days became longer. The bonfires have always played an important role in this festival. Traditionally, Easter bonfires were lit on the fields to be protected and blessed by the gods. The ashes of the fire were spread over the fields to make them more fruitful.

Early in human history, the sun, and its satellites, the planets, came to be seen as objects endowed with a spirit, a celestial strength, an assertive personality. The humans thought that these revolutions had the capacity to influence the destinies of beings. The stars have become gods with animal attachments including the supporting intervention sought by men in their affairs. It was believed that on this night the inhabitants of the other world and the realm of the dead, sometimes come over to roam around and to take men whom they considered worthy into their world.

Makara Sankranti coincides with the the sun embarking on the northern transition to Capricorn or the Makara on the 14th or 15th of January. Also, in temperate cultures the solstices like the equinoxes are often used to define the seasons as they can be used to delimit the beginning of summer and winter, or to mark the middle of these two seasons. In the early days, the feast of the day usually fell short. They ate what was left of the harvest in the last year, dried fruits, stickfish, and grain.

The prominence of the Pleiades in the night sky in the winter sky in northern hemisphere and in the summer sky in southern hemisphere has made them important in many cultures. Among the Maori of New Zealand, the Pleiades are called Matariki. The Australian Aborigines saw in the Pleiades a woman. Alternatively, were seven sisters called the Makara.

The menu was supplemented with fruits and berries from the uncultivated nature. At this time, Mother Earth had a second harvest for her children, the berries. The joy of life and confidence for the future could be restored, and groups of young people who were after the festive midday meal were looking for berries. It was one of the rare occasions when boys and girls could enjoy singing, dancing and playing without the usual, strict supervision of the older generation. It is not surprising that this occasion was often the first step towards marriage.

Usually, these gatherings of young people took place on highlands, which allowed a splendid panorama. There were also petitions, sacrifices and thanksgiving. During this time, people also made excursions to springs, lakes and rivers. An important symbol of the feast was, the food was often made as a doll from the last sheaves, preserved and revered. Thus the last sheaf was often left standing or tied to a human figure.

It was considered a harvest sacrifice for the animals and their fertility should go on the seed of next year. In it the spirit of the grain was concentrated, when everything else had already been mown, so the last sheaf was regarded as sacred, its destruction (profane eating) as dangerous. In Sweden and Denmark, the juleber is baked in the winter from the grain of the last sheaf and in bengal and other parts of India, the pitha is made likewise.

Winter has always been considered a symbol of adversity, and so spending together the darkest night of the year was a way to face together the challenges of life. Families gathered around a wood stove on which was stretched a huge blanket and spent the night telling stories. Since the festival is celebrated in midwinter, the food that is prepared for this event is a type of food that keeps the body warm and energizes.

Makara Sankranti has many similarities with other major festivals like pagan celebrations of Mabon, Lammas, Imbolc, Oimelc and Yule (Diwali and Sankranthi), Samhain (Mahalaya) and Yalda, in persian cultures. This clearly indicates that all the major festivities are related and not about isolated events. The Celts, for example, lit fires to cozy up its gods and burned a puppet representing the past. While burning the bonfire, the farmers in a circle shouted and sang. It was accompanied by a tasting of mulled wine and pliers, flat bread typical of this feast and baked sometimes through the same fires. Imbolc was the feast of the Celtic Goddess Brid, which was renamed in the course of Christianisation the holy Brigid or Brigit later.

Imbolc was celebrated with ritual cleanings, sacrifices and horse racing and nightly sacred fires. On these days the Celts celebrated the return of sunlight after the long winter. the first loaves of bread, porridges and bread were sacrificed and eaten during a ritual meal, which were baked with the temple or even in the church consecrated grain from the new harvest. The head of the family solemnly tugged the first sheaf with his hand.

The grain must then be burnt by the fire; in some circumstances, it was even burnt on a stone slab, so that the hardened grains remained, for only these were ground by the stone handmills. After repeated sieving, bread and rolls were made from the flour, which tasted delicious. By this custom of sacrificing the first loaves from the pre-harvested grain, the harvest was fundamentally ritually anticipated and thus magically secured.

She was also honored for the power of her fire. The flame was also equated with one's own sexuality. The special fire should preferably be struck with a stone, or even better be ignited by a firing glass to bring the force of the sun to the earth. Women were not allowed to participate in this ritual, because the phallic power of Freyr and Thor was to pass over to the participants. Brid embodied for women the intrepid, open sexuality and the secure expression of their sexual energies. She was also respected for her secrets about sexual secrets. Imbolc is also the feast for the interests of women, the family and the home. At Imbolc, Bread was baked and butter made, for bread and butter were sacred to the Celts.

As early as the beginning of the last century, it was customary in the Irish villages on Imbolc, where young women, wrapped in old clothes went from house to house begging for money for poor. The alms benefited the community, especially since the people liked to give, because a donation brought happiness. Imbolc used to start the Scottish year.

From Westphalia, women's traditions were handed over, with which the approaching young men got one over with the elderberry. The time for union (Lupercalia) has not yet come, because Imbolc is the festival of purity and innocence. However, the young girls were already listening to the future and wondering what kind of husband they would receive. It was an old custom for the young girls to go outside the village that night, waiting for the barking of the dog. From the direction from which the dog barked, the later suitor was to appear during Beltane.

It is said for example that if a woman had rolled naked in the dew of the evening would have favored her fertility and that if she ever collected the dew to drink it, it would increase her charm. Another curious custom was to put three beans under the pillow, one without a hood, one whole and one peeled and depending on which of the three beans was extracted from the pillow in the morning, the girls would know the social status of her husband, peeled poor, rich whole or uncapped average. There were neither combat games nor death rituals in the days, where bread, wine and fish were served and sacred games and sports competitions were held, and promises of marriage could be given for a year and a day.

Just think that in pre-Columbian Peru, the Incas celebrated Inti Raymi, the Sun festival in the winter solstice, as in India was celebrated in December the traditional Feast of the Sun, Makar Sankranti, as in China, December 22, marks the Dongzhi and and in Japan the pre-buddhist was celebrated, again in late December, the still worshiped Amaterasu, the Sun goddess. Germans had the custom of expelling the winter with a straw doll. The Boogg, which symbolized demons and spirits, was burst into flames.

Beings from the other world can come over, according to popular belief. All kinds of trolls, giants and ghosts are on their way this night and special blessings are handed down for this night to protect the house from them. According to Nordic faith it was appropriate to place sacrifices for the wandering beings (bread and meats, for example).

In Persian legend the feast comes from Mithraism and celebrates the birth of Mithras, the sun god. For this, bonfires were lit in the fields, crops and trees were watered with spiced cider toast. The children received gift baskets of apples and cloves, oranges, evergreen branches and dried ears of corn sprinkled with flour. in Iceland on Bóndadagur, on this day wives and girlfriends pamper their men. Bóndadagur also marks the beginning of the month of old Icelandic Thorri, during which take place Þórrablót, the mid-winter festival across the country.

The þorramatur is a selection of traditional food, composed mainly of meat and fish products in a typical cured, cut into slices or chunks and served with rúgbrauð, bread of rye, butter and Brennivin, a brandy. Many families celebrates the traditional Thorri food with dried fish, smoked lamb, putrefied shark and soured blood and liver pudding, along with other meat products, including sour balls. The delicacies are often washed down with a sip or two of brennivín, Icelandic schnapps.

Whatever its true origin, in Þorrablot this day remains as a standard part of the Icelandic social calendar, and is also being adopted by many neighboring countries such as Denmark, Greenland, Norway and Sweden. As celebrations take place in the winter, most of the food served are preserved in some way-dried, pickled in whey, putrefied, salted or smoked. And amidst this food galore are children playing traditional games, dancing, singing old Icelandic songs, and drinking especially that Brennivin and other alcoholic beverages, in winter, ideal to warm the body and waving the spirits.

In the Calendar of Coligny, one of the best preserved Celtic calendars, we can identify how the winter solstice was celebrated with Deuorius Riuri. The Germans held on similar dates the Modraniht, a festival that was celebrated with a sacrifice. The Hopi Indians of North America celebrated Soyalangwul. Most of the cultures have transformed it to Brumalia, Goru, Jonkonnu, Meán Gheimhridh, Saturnalia. Maslenitsa is a traditional Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian festival when is consumed the classic sweet pancakes (in fact made with butter and milk) called bliny, generally round because they resemble the shape of the sun.

The only way to explain these coincidences is to assume that at the dawn of time there must have been a unique original culture. This common source goes back to very ancient times, otherwise it would be discussed in the historical chronicles. On the day of Makar Sankranti festival, women prepare sweets and specialties made of rice or other harvests. In many places people donate food, clothes and money to the poor. Makar Sankranti is celebrated throughout India. Its a day dedicated to the purifications and initiations, which can be seen as the beginning of the new.

Often it feels to associate the meaning of Makar Sankranti at Winter Solstice, but it seems more suitable, if we have to find a prehistoric correspondence, to associate it with the traditional meaning of Epiphany, which in antiquity manifest the birth of time, and marks therefore, the resumption of the year, after the break of the Sun in the darkness of the point. Then the Sun comes back today to illuminate the becoming, a guest in the home of Saturn.

At the beginning of this significant event veneration it is made all the ancestors who have died. In North India in the early hours of the morning people dip in the waters of the Yamuna or Ganga and holding water with both hands pray to the Sun god with folded hands singing the famous Gayatri mantra. Many people go to holy places like Haridwar and Kashi for welfare activities.

In southern India, Tamil people celebrate Pongal, Bhogi Panduga in Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka the Sankranti. The festival continues for ten days with party, races, songs and dance which are also an important part of this festival. Cows and oxen are beautifully decorated. Rice desserts are also prepared. At night time, cattle is carried in procession to the beat of drums and music. In Karnataka people prepare a dish called Ellu made of sesame, coconut and sugar.

Each town or city is decorated with colorful pictures known as muggulu and are usually found on the front of the houses. Women enjoy doing these drawings and try to outdo each other. Cockfighting is held in Andhra, bullfight in Tamil Nadu and elephant party and Makaravilakku Festival in Sabarimala Temple in Kerala. There is the custom of making illegal bets, which continue as part of the festival because of its tradition.

In the state of Maharashtra, the harvest of sugarcane play an important role. In each house the women prepare Tilgul Ladoo, which are sweets made from the sugar of fresh sugarcane, mixed with sesame seeds, and give them away to neighbors and friends, with a saying: Tilgul ghya, god god bola which means eat this sweet and say sweet words.

In Gujarat begins the season for kite flying and everywhere is held competitions. People celebrate this festival flying small and large colorful kites. The clear blue sky looks attractive and people surrender to the joy of flying kites as the sky from morning to night is dotted with splashes of vivid colours of exotic kites of various designs and shapes. Unmarried women pray in the hope of getting a good husband or married pray that their husbands are long-lived.

The state of West Bengal is center of one of the largest pilgrimage festivals of Sagar Mela, where thousands of believers meet to dip in the seas exactly in the astrological moment. Bengalis also celebrate the Poush Parbon, with sweet delicacies know as pitha and patishapta made of rice flour. Bhogali Bihu is celebrated in Assam and Maghe Sankranti in Bihar.

Lohri is celebrated in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, where it is the coldest time of the year amidst joyful singing among families and friends who gather around a bonfire, throwing rice and sweets into the flames.

This festival is celebrated not only in India but also held in other Southeast Asian countries in Thailand as Songkran, in Laos as Lao Ma Pi, and in Myanmar as Thingyan.



kalaiselvisblog said...

dats a wonderful information about Pongal buddy... really happy to c ur post...

Happy New Year & advance Pongal wishes...

nityakalyani said...

Kalyan, the write up was very interesting. Will it be possible to explain it more in details. You might know that in Tamilnadu it is a 4-5 day events. It starts with bogi, pongal, matthu pongal, kannu pongal and final day you will have jalli kattu [ bull tamming]. will appreciate your writings on this also. Happy NEW YEAR

Kala said...

Very interesting and information commentary and photos.

Anweshan - The Eternal Search said...

the farewell to winter begins frm here on...

CameraCruise said...

Beautiful post!
Have a great weekend.

Deeps @ Naughty Curry said...

how informative! loved reading every bit of info & a happy sankranthi to u too :)

lisa said...

My goodness, everything always looks so yummy here Kalyan!
Here in the U.S., we are in the middle of winter, and when I look at the first photograph here, it reminds me of a beautiful warm summer day. What a gorgeous photograph it is!
Have a great weekend my Friend.

Michelle Renee said...

Pretty greens and yellows!