Makar Sankranti: Traditions Of 10 Harvest Festivals Across India

The first major festival of India is always Makar Sankranti. Usually, it falls on the 14th of January but in 2024 it falls on Monday the 15th since it’s a leap year. This Hindu festival has many origin stories and legends that surround it as well as many offshoots like the Punjabi festival of Lohri which is celebrated the day before. The date marks the movement of the sun from the zodiac of Sagittarius (dhanu) to Capricorn (makara) and is dedicated to the sun god, Surya.

It’s unique as a festival because almost every state of India has it’s version of the celebration as well as different legends and rituals that contribute to it, while simultaneously being a nationwide event. For most places, it also marks the beginning of the winter harvest which shapes the food and customs of the celebration. 

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Here are some ways in which India celebrates Makar Sankranti across the country:

Ellu Birodhu - Karnataka

In Karnataka, Makara Sankranti is marked by the ritual of "Ellu Birodhu," where women exchange "Ellu Bella," a regional delicacy crafted from freshly cut sugarcane, sesame seeds, jaggery, and coconut, with at least 10 families. Additionally, farmers celebrate "Suggi" as a harvest festival, adorning their bulls and cows in vibrant costumes. The festivities include a unique ritual called "Kichchu Haayisuvudu," where farmers and their bulls leap over fires in celebration.

Hangrai: Tripura

Hangrai, celebrated in Tripura, involves extensive preparations, commencing a week before the festival. Villagers collectively gather and bring home the harvested paddy, contributing to the construction of the Hangrai Nok. The festival encompasses not only a feast with delectable meals, including fish, chicken, and pork but also entails singing and dancing near the Hangrai Nok, often situated by a pond or lake.

Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu - Assam

Farmers in Assam commemorate their toil in cultivating paddy, the primary crop of the region. The three Bihus, forming a festival complex, represent different stages of the paddy cultivation process. During the festivities, locals construct Meji, a wooden and leaf structure guarded overnight, only to be set ablaze the next day, symbolising the departure of winter. Women don elegant mukhlas, engaging in group songs and dances.

Makara Sankranti - Andhra Pradesh, Telangana

In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Makar Sankranti unfolds as a four-day celebration brimming with excitement. Families unite in traditional revelry, marked by the consumption of delectable sweets. The festival progresses through Bhoghi on the first day, Makara Sankranti on the second, Kanuma on the third, and Mukkanuma on the fourth. Each day carries unique traditions, with the first three embracing a strictly vegetarian diet, while Mukkanuma witnesses a sacrificial offering of animals to the divine, followed by the consumption of meat.

Poush Sangkranti: West Bengal, Bangladesh

In West Bengal, Poush Parbon, celebrated on the last day of the Hindu month of Poush, ushers in the Magha month. Palm jaggery, Khejurer Gur, available exclusively during this period, is used to prepare sweets. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped during Sankranti, while in Darjeeling, the festival takes on the name Magey Sakrati, with Lord Shiva as the focal deity.

Pusna: West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya

Pusnâ, a crucial festival for the Hajong people in Northeast India and Bangladesh, involves the preparation of traditional cakes using ground rice, coconut, banana, and Palmyra palm juice. These rice cakes undergo various preparations, including deep frying and steaming in bamboo or banana leaves. The festival begins with honouring ancestors, followed by visits to relatives and friends.

Sakrat: Jharkhand and West Bengal

Sakrat, a festival of the Santali people in Jharkhand, also known as "HologHurg Mah" and "Barabare Din," involves various rituals and traditional foods such as leto, jil pitha, jil utu, and haku. The festival includes prayers, sacrifices, hunting, and joyful dancing and singing.

Shishur Saenkraat: Kashmir Valley

Known as Shishur Saenkraat in the Kashmir Valley, Makar Sankranti marks the transition from harsh winters to pleasant and warm seasons. Celebrations involve the consumption of sweets made from jaggery and sesame.

Tusu - West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Odisha

Tusu, a significant festival for the Kurmi community, extends its celebration across Jharkhand, the Rāṛh region of West Bengal, and certain parts of Odisha. Embraced by various communities, Tusu, a harvest festival centred around paddy and rice, involves the establishment of Tusu by young girls. This is done using the last stack of paddy, called dinimai, left in the field after the harvest, symbolising the essence of the festival.

Uttarayan: Gujarat

Gujarat observes the Uttarayan festival over two days, focusing on Uttarayan on the first day and Vasi Uttarayan on the next. Celebrations revolve around sweets, predominantly chikkis, kites, and a special curry called Undhiyu, crafted from an array of vegetables.