Makar Sankranti 2024: The Essence Of Maharashtra’s Harvest

As the spirit of celebration hits a lull after New Year’s Day for most of the world, in India, it’s just a sign to start gearing up for the next big event, Makar Sankranti. Makar Sankranti signifies the start of the sun's northward journey. "Makar" translates to Capricorn, and "Sankranti" denotes the shift of the Sun from one zodiac sign to another. While this transition occurs monthly, Makar Sankranti holds special importance as it marks the conclusion of the sun's southward movement (Dakshinayana) and the beginning of its northward course (Uttarayana) and in 2024, it will fall on the 15th of January. Additionally, Makar Sankranti aligns with the commencement of the harvest season in India, a time of abundance and joy.

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The festival spans three days, the first being Bhogi, the second Sankrant, and the final day Kinkrant. According to legend, a demon named Sankarasur posed a threat to humans. To vanquish him, the goddess Sankranti descended to Earth, leading to the celebration of Sankrant upon the demon's demise.

In Maharashtra, kite flying takes precedence during these three days, accompanied by the chanting of "til-gul ghyaa, aani goad-goad bolaa." (Eat Tilgul and talk sweetly). In fact, sesame features in nearly all the dishes of the festival. Each region of Maharastra, and each community has its own special rituals and recipes, but all can be traced back to a celebration of the harvest and seasonal crops. In Maharashtra, it also marks the season of the initial sugarcane harvest. As the sugar canes ripen, they are processed into jaggery, and consequently, sweets crafted during this period prominently feature jaggery.

“In Maharashtra, the star foods around Sankranti are Gulachi Poli (a brittle bread stuffed with a mix of grated jaggery, roasted besan, powdered sesame seeds, etc.), Tilachi Vadi (soft sesame seed fudge squares), Tilaache Laado (chikki-like hard laddoos of jaggery, sesame seeds, peanuts, and roasted chana), etc. The common ingredients are sesame, peanuts, and jaggery as these are considered warming for this time of year,” says Saee Koranne-Khandekar, an expert in Maharashtrian cuisine and author of Pangat, A Feast - Food and Love from Maratha Kitchens.

The day preceding Makar Sankranti is referred to as Bhogi and is renowned for a dish called Bhogichi bhaji. Bhogi is dedicated to Indra, the god of clouds and rain, and is worshipped to seek blessings for a bountiful harvest and overall prosperity. A traditional dish is made on this day, although it’s not as popular as it used to be. “A now fading ritual, however, is the Bhogi chi Bhaaji or a harvest stew, made using seasonal vegetables such as green chana, eggplants, new potatoes, red carrots, tender peanuts, etc. on the eve of Makar Sankranti,” says Khandekar. “This is eaten with a Bajra Bhakri studded with sesame seeds.”

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With modernisation, many of the old traditions have fallen behind. Traditionally, people would start the day in a bath flecked with sesame seeds or oil which signifies self-purification and gaining ‘punya’ (blessing). Other local traditions include the Bor-Nahaan which marks a child’s first Sankrant. “The children are dressed in black (supposedly to attract warmth), and there is a ceremony in which Bor (ber; jujubes) and other goodies such as Revdi and popped rice are showered on the child's head,” says Khandekar,  “Other kids are invited to participate and pick the goodies. This is just a fun way to introduce children to seasonal foods.”

Though the festival of Makar Sankranti is loved and celebrated across the country in a hundred different forms from Poush to Pongal, for Maharashtrians, the connection with the day is unique. It’s more than a religious festival, it’s a celebration of life, friendship, abundance of the earth and everything that makes the world a sweeter place.