The word ‘Sankranti’ means the movement of the sun into Capricorn. On Makar Sankranti, the sun enters new zodiac-sign of Capricorn or Makara. Most Hindu festivals are based on the lunar calendar, making the dates of festivals change every year. But Makar Sankranti is a festival which falls on the same day every year as it follows the solar calendar. As Makar Sankranti is one of the oldest solstice festivals and falls on the equinox, day and night on this day are believed to be equally long. Post the festival, it is officially the beginning of spring. Indian summer and the days become longer, and nights shorter.
Makara Sankranthi is celebrated for three days. The first day is Bhogi. North India is known as Lohri.The second day is Sankranthi which is dedicated to worshipping Surya (the Sun god), Varuna (the rain god) and Indra (king of gods). The third day is Kanuma which is dedicated to cleaning cows, farm animals, and farm equipment and also offering prayers to them for helping with a successful harvest season.
Bhogi day starts with Bhogi manta (Bonfire) in the early hours of the morning. People light a bonfire, offer prayers to fire god discarding outdated things and ideas and welcome new things and new ideas to prosper. In the evening Bommala Koluvu (arrangement of images of Gods, toys, and dolls) is arranged at homes.
The second day is the main festival – Sankranthi. The second day is for Sun’s way into Uttarayana or Northern Hemisphere which is celebrated as Makara Sankranti. People express gratitude and appreciation to the Hindu gods varunudu (god of rain), Indra (king of gods) responsible for ample amount of rainfall, plenty of harvest, wealth and prosperity. ‘Nadaswaram’ is played, to welcome Makara Sankranti, the onset of ‘Uttarayana Punyakalam’ when the Sun makes its journey to Northern hemisphere from Makara Rasi.
These three days the streets in South India look amazingly colorful with different designs of rangolis. Rangoli (Kolam, muggu) is an art of drawing with dots using dry rice flour. Women wake up early in the morning to decorate their courtyards. Neighbors and friends compete with each other in decorating the entrance with attractive rangoli and placing ‘gobbemmalu’ (small cow dung balls with flowers placed in the center) as per tradition. Apart from the households, rangoli is also made outside shops and offices. Drawing kolam is considered auspicious. Several types of muggu designs are popular for Pongal. Apart from drawing lines, people also make twisted chains by linking one loop of the rangoli with the next, thereby forming wonderful designs. The art is also popular in other states, where it is known by different names. In Bengal, it is known as Alpana, while in Rajasthan, it is known by the name ‘Mandana’. People in Andhra Pradesh call it ‘Muggulu’, while in Maharashtra and Karnataka it is called ‘Rangoli’.
Sweets called nuvvula laddu, sakinalu, ‘ariselu’ and ‘bobattlu’ are made and offered to family and extended families. Pongali made of fresh harvest rice and jaggery is made. For this reason, in Tamilnadu, it is called Pongal. Since Sankranti falls in winter, consuming sesame seeds mixed in jaggery is beneficial to keep the body warm. Eating sesame and jaggery is believed to take away the bad elements of the minds and hearts of people. Sesame helps retain the Shakti (Divine Energy) and Chaitanya. It is known to eliminate sins if used in drinking water, bathing, applying til oil on the body and other uses. It is said sesame seeds have a greater ability to absorb and emit sattva (One of the three components in the universe, signified by purity and knowledge) frequencies.
The third day is Kanuma Panduga is basically known as Mukkanuma in Telugu, Mattu Pongal in Tamil is an event of praying and showcasing their cattle with honor. In olden days, Cattles are the sign of prosperity. Some of the reasons are using bulls for plough, using cow dung to build houses, used dung as a coating on walls every year and production of milk.
Families gather during the Sankranti event and specifically, sons-in-law holiday with their wife’s families.
The most eye-catching feature of Kanuma is the procession of colorfully decorated bulls in the streets with sannai or nadaswaram music. ‘Gangireddu’ is a colorfully decorated processed in the village by its master who plays the ‘Nadaswaram’ during Sankranti. Bulls are trained to nod ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, kneel down and dance by ‘Yadava’ sect. The Gangireddu earn money, clothes, and grains in return for the performance.
- 2 cups - besan (chickpea flour)
- 1 cup - brown sesame seeds (till or nuvvulu)
- 1½ - 1¾ cups - grated jaggery or brown sugar
- ¼ tsp - ground cardamom seeds
- 1 tbsp - cashews (To make nut-free, skip cashews)
- ½ cup - fresh ghee (To make it vegan, use coconut oil)
- Sift besan. Make sure of no lumps.
- In a wide pan, add besan and roast on medium-low heat. Roast for almost 1+ hour till besan is golden brown and raw smell is gone. You can stir every 2-3 minutes. Remember to roast on medium-low. You can sit back and watch a movie while you roast. Stir occasionally. Depending on the pan, and temperature, you can stir every 5 minutes. Keep aside in a bowl and let it cool.
- Roast sesame seeds until golden brown over medium heat. Let them cool.
- Blend cardamom first till fine powder. Then add sesame seeds and grind to the powder. Don't grind for long. Otherwise, oil in sesame seeds makes it sticky.
- Add brown sugar. Pulse till well mixed.
- Fry cashews in ½ tbsp ghee until golden brown.
- Add ground sesame mixture to besan. Mix well. Make sure of no lumps.
- Add ghee little by little, while mixing. Don't add any more ghee when perfect consistency to make balls is reached. This recipe takes a minimum amount of ghee. Oil in sesame seeds and brown sugar helps in making laddus with minimum ghee.
- Add cashews.
- Divide to equal proportions. Make a golf sized ball by pressing in your palm.
- Serve with love.