With Makar Sankranti coming up you must have noticed an influx of sesame sweets and dishes. But do you know how sesame became so important for this festival? Here’s a look at the benefits of sesame and why it’s such an integral part of Makar Sankranti.
Makar Sankranti – also known as Pongal, Lohri, Uttarayana, Magh Bihu and many more – is a Hindu festival celebrated all over India around the second week of January every year. It’s dedicated to the sun god, Surya and the transition of the sun from its astrological placement in Saggitarius to Capricorn. It’s a harvest festival that also signifies the end of winter and the coming of warmer days. As with all Indian festivals, food is an integral part of the celebration, but for Makar Sankranti, sesame plays an especially large role.
The sesame plant has been a useful addition to human life for many centuries. It likely originated in Asia or East Africa and used to be ground into grainy flour by Ancient Egyptians. The seeds were also used a lot by the Chinese around 5,000 years ago as the base for the soot that made Chinese ink blocks.
Sesame seeds come in two main types: white and black. White sesame is the one most commonly consumed in India and is also known as til. It’s most often paired with jaggery because together, the two provide thermogenic effects that help to warm the body. They are also considered very important in ancient Ayurveda for their high nutritional value. It can help mitigate blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve bone health and reproductive health. It is customary to begin Makar Sankranti with a ritual bath, usually in a river or the sea, followed by a massage with sesame oil to stimulate circulation.
Since sesame seeds are said to have been blessed by Lord Yama, the god of death, and are known as the ‘seeds of immortality’, it’s also customary to make an offering of sesame and jaggery in a copper vessel at the temples. Sesame is also exchanged in the form of sweets to signify a renewal of friendship. A commonly used saying in Maharashtra is ‘Til gud ghya, goad goad bola" which translates to ‘Take sesame and jaggery and speak sweet words’.
The simple sesame may have become an integral part of Makar Sankranti traditions but it has a long legacy to uphold. So next time you give or receive sesame sweets this season, take a moment to appreciate the benefits provided by this humble little seed.