Usually celebrated on 14th January every year, Makar Sankranti is a nation-wide festival that is called by different names and celebrated in different ways.
We’ve entered 2022 already and well, only a pinch would make me believe that. The pandemic that began in the latter half of 2019 has engulfed our lives for over two years now. From the first wave to the second one, we’ve shared sorrows of several near and dear ones. Some countries had to even bear the brunt of a third wave. Finally, the end of 2020 left us with a hope for a better new year but in vain. The cases have started increasing yet again and the advisory is to stay home. And while you’re at home, thinking of what next, rural India is gearing up for the commencement of their much awaited harvest festival.
Call it Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Bihu Mag or Lohri, it is the essence and emotions associated with the festival that matter the most. The agricultural sector of India contributes a major share to the economy and employment generation. Since our fertile soil grows a lot many grains and cereals which have helped the country become self-dependent, it is only right to celebrate the onset of the harvest season. Significance of Makar Sankranti lies in the fact that the Sun god moves and transitions into Capricorn. This movement results in longer days and shorter nights, marking the end of winters. The worshippers look forward to bright and sunny months ahead that provide adequate sunlight for their crops to grow.
It is considered to be an auspicious day which is also the darkest night of the year. On this day, several traditions are followed across the country. From flying kites to consuming til and gud (jaggery), the festivities commence once the farmers cut their first harvest. There is also a popular saying which goes like, “Til gud dhyaa, aane goda goda bola” which means eat sesame and jaggery and speak well. Jaggery is significant because sugarcane is the first crop that is harvested and then it is used to make gud.
Across the Indian states, people rejoice the day with a variety of food traditions. Some of them include pinnis, sweet whole-wheat hand-rolled elongated ladoos with nuts, from Punjab, puran poli from Maharashtra, Makara Chaula from Odia, til ladoos and more. These are some of the delectable dishes which are consumed on Makar Sankranti. However, East India also practices their own set of preparations on this day.
Bihar, in particular, bestows huge importance on this festival as they also have an annual Makar Sankranti mela in Rajgir to celebrate the day. People travel from across the country to take a dip in the holy water of Ganges. The Hot Springs are filled with worshippers and devotees as are the skies with colourful kites brightening the day even more. Amongst the enthusiastic celebrations, there are three dishes that are specially consumed on Makar Sankranti as an ode to the Sun God.
This is an interesting dessert which is relished by Biharis on the festival. The biscuit-shaped tilkuts are also known as tilpatti or gajak. These are popular across Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal too. The sweet cracker-like dessert is made from til that has been pounded and mixed with jaggery. These are usually associated with Gaya in Bihar where you would find the finest quality of tilkuts that are crispy and soft at the same time. This delectable dessert is on the shelves only for a month and half during winters and savoured at Makar Sankranti the most.
2. Dahi Choora
Chiwda Dahi or Dahi choora is another usual suspect in Bihari households during winters. Beaten rice is mixed with oodles of curd to form this dahi choora which is considered to be an auspicious meal for the day. It is a light and healthy preparation that involves no cooking and loved by people in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It is often termed as Dahi Choora day in Bihar.
While til ke ladoos are loved by people across the country when it comes to Makar Sankranti, it is laai that holds a special place in the heart of Biharis. Puffed rice is rolled into a ball and stuck together with jaggery. Hints of fennel and crushed ginger add to the flavour of the whole dish.