Makar Sankranti 2024: Sugarcane And Ellu-Bella In Karnataka
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A few weeks after the New Year celebrations in January every year, when you see stacks of sugarcane being piled on for sale across the local markets in Karnataka, it indicates that it is time to celebrate the Makara Sankranthi festival, which marks the arrival of spring and the end of winter. 

In Karnataka, the Sankranthi festival is celebrated across the state in various ways for three days. It is widely practiced by Hindus. But one thing that is common to this celebration is sugarcane. If you grew up in the cities, right from buying to distributing them with neighbours and friends brought sheer excitement during this festival. And chewing on a long stick of sugarcane to savour its juice continues to be a common and significant activity during the day of the festival, whether you are a child or an adult.

Makara Sankranthi is celebrated as the festival of harvest called 'suggi habba' in Kannada, where seasonal crops like paddy,ber, sugarcane, hyacinth beans, bajra, brinjal, ridge gourd, and more are harvested. In Karnataka, it mainly marks the harvest of rice and sugarcane. The rich bounty of seasonal produce is used to prepare various delicacies and is also used for customary practices, with three of the prominent ones being 'ellu beerodhu', 'phala ereyuvudu', and 'kicchu haayisuvudu'.

The Making Of Sakkare Acchu Or Sugarcane Candy

The rich harvest is lugged in a few days or a week before, and some of it is used to prepare various delicacies that are first placed as offerings to the Sun god in gratitude and then relished by families with their loved ones, relatives, friends, and neighbours.

The sugarcane juice is reduced to make various figurines of sugar candies a few days prior to the festival. You might have seen or assisted the women in the households in reducing the sugarcane juice over low heat and pouring it into wooden moulds that are pre-soaked in water for 4-5 hours and wiped dry.

The mould contains different shapes, including those of horses, flowers, birds, elephants, and more. The two sides of the mould are held with rubber bands or tied with twine and the thick liquid sugarcane syrup is poured into the mould and allowed to cool to make 'sakkare acchu' or moulded sugar candies.

Ellu Beerodhu Is A Customary Practise

A special trail mix is prepared during this festival called the 'ellu-bella', which means sesame and jaggery. This trail mix and sakkare acchu are not only eaten on the day of the festival but also exchanged with loved ones, relatives, friends, and neighbours, along with other goodies filled in a tray mostly, and this practise is called 'ellu beerodhu'.

This trail mix includes finely diced sun-dried copra or dried coconut, jaggery, roasted groundnuts, sesame seeds, fried gram, and candied cumin seeds. We would distribute this by saying, " ellu-bella thindu olle maathadi," which is similar to the Maharashtrians saying, "Til gul ghya and god god bola.”

The tray would be filled with a portion of hyacinth beans, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, a long sugarcane stick, a small packet of the ellu-bella trail mix, a small packet of homemade sugarcane candies, a few ellu unde or til laddoos, a small block of jaggery, a handful of ber fruits, an apple or mosambi, banana, palm leaves, and areca nuts. As kids, we might all remember dressing up in new clothes and carrying large trays to cousins', relatives, and neighbours' houses in the evenings to exchange ellu-bella from each other's homes.

Sankranthi Phala Ereyuvudu

Another practice in regards to this is showering the children with all these goodies and wishing prosperity for them. A measuring glass is filled with some ber fruits, coins, sugar cane pieces, ellu-bella trail mix, and sugar candies. The children below 12 years old are seated and the contents of the measuring glasses are showered on their heads three times with the belief that they will grow up to be prosperous.

Another belief is that it is done so to ward off evil and keep the child from harm's way and away from ill health. Later, an aarti is performed for the children, and they are fed ellu-bella, sugarcane, sweets, and pongal to eat. And the showered items are collected and donated to someone in need.

Apart from that, delights like 'huggi anna' or kichadi made from rice and moong dal in sweet and savoury versions with jaggery or spices similar to pongal are savoured during this festival. Sesame seeds, laddoo, jaggery, ghee, dry coconut, and groundnuts are consumed to help brace ourselves for the harsh winter weather, as these foods contain good amounts of healthy fats that help our bodies generate heat and keep us energetic through the days. Moreover, most of the foods eaten during the festival are seasonal produce that is required to help us stay fit and healthy.

The Ellu-Bella Business

All in all, ellu beeruvudu was or is an activity that most children and women folk look forward to during the Sankranthi festival in Karnataka. While ellu-bella and sakkare acchu were made at home, most people nowadays buy them from popular stores or place orders with home-sellers who sell them in kilograms and earn a good amount from selling over five hundred kilograms of the trail mix during this festival.

For instance, Sri Vasavi Condiments in JP Nagar or Sri Guru Raghavendra stores in Gandhi Bazar of Bengaluru are two popular stores that sell more than one variety of ellu-bella mix and sakkare acchu of various sizes, shapes, and colours during sankranthi. The Subbamma stores in Basavanagudi not only sell ellu-bella but also other treats like ellu unde, til chikki, avre kai mixture, chutney podi varieties, and more that you will need for a sankranthi feast.

With that being one of the highlights of the festival, a tradition called "Kicchu haayisuvudu" is another equally important customary practise that mostly takes place in rural areas. Decorated cattle or bullocks are offered prayers, paraded around the village, and then made to walk on hot coals. This ritual is done to protect the sacred livestock and crops from harm. It is important to note that the animals are not harmed during this process, and the ceremony is believed to bring good fortune.