Makar Sankranti is not just a kite flying festival. There is much more to it. The sun moves its position towards the Northern hemisphere. It signals the end of winters and the onset of spring. Sankranti comes on 14th January every year. All the 'Tithi' fall in place. Another festival is Vishwakarma Puja which happens on 17th September every year. The Indian calendar or 'Panchaang' is the world's best calendar. It gives you not just past and future days and dates but gives you the same for years to come and years gone by. It also tells one the planetary positions and the movement of the stars and the planets. The eclipse and 'Nakshatra' movement are predicted much in advance. This all has been done by our 'Rishis' much before the advent of telescope and computers. The world follows lunar calendar. In India, we always had sidereal calendar which means that we knew not only that the sun is the centre and planets are going around it, but we also calculated all stars, constellation and planetary position and movements with respect to earth as the centre. All our predictions from Vedic texts regarding weather, stars, constellations are hundred percent accurate. This was much before the Europeans realised that Earth is round and invented A.D. and B.C. Kumbh Mela starts on Makar Sankranti. In Kerala, it is the end of Shabrimala pilgrimage. In Punjab, it is Lohri time with the beginning of the harvest season, bonfire, food and dancing.India knew routes by sea and land to all over the world. These routes were documented in maps. Our astrology and astronomy was the most advanced. When the British, the French, Portuguese came to India, they stole the sea route maps from temples and from the merchants. The Gurukul with its Guru Shishya parampara was doing great in imparting knowledge which enabled students to live a life and earn their own living.
This year, I learnt how Maharashtra celebrates Makar Sankranti as I was a part of it. There are Haldi Kumkum celebrations all over. Haldi Kumkum is applying red (turmeric and lime) and yellow (turmeric) colours on the forehead. All women participate in it. There are traditional games for Sankranti which test your mind and body. All this celebration is a group activity. Women old and young of all age groups and all status are a part of it. Big Rangoli is made in the centre or at the entrance of the hall/ ground/ aangan/ courtyard. The traditional colour worn for Sankranti is black. Modern Reason being Sankranti is a very cold night. Temperatures dip and black colour absorbs heat. So it is ideal to wear it.I knew in our family, when the daughter in law comes in, she is given a black Bandhni Saree. I never knew why this tradition. Similarly in Tamils, when the woman is pregnant, she is gifted a black heavy saree. This was told to us but with our modern education, we thought all this is humbug or superstition . Colours have an impact on us. Now the modern science is using colour therapy to help people in various mental and physical diseases.
In Maharashtra, Sankrant is celebrated to honour the new daughter-in-law in the family. The event I was a part of, She wore jewellery made of sugar and Til ( sesame). Years ago, women knew how to make these white jewellery beads at home. On Sankranti, before sunrise, sugar was melted and the beads were made by covering each Til with the sugar syrup. In Marathi, it is called 'Halwe che daagine' which is jewellery made of sugar. First time I saw how gorgeous this jewellery can look. All pieces of jewellery is made from this along with black beads..earrings, necklaces, Mangalsutra, finger rings, waist bands or kammar bandhs, bangles and more. A lady in Pune made intricate sugar jewellery. She is no more but her work is carried forwards by her daughter-in-law. The creativity of this jewellery and its grandeur is worth a look. Sankrant songs and games are a big equaliser among women. We played 'Fugdi' in pairs. Fugdi is crossing your hands and holding your partner's crossed hands and going round and round real fast. It is best done bare feet. The trick is to look up at the sky, feel the breeze in your eyes and lungs and move without lifting your feet from the ground. The bonus is that I got to sight the early half moon. Fugdi is so exhilarating. Even when I did not know a lady, holding crossed hands, looking at each other and matching your steps with her so that she doesn't fall and neither do you is the experience of true partnership. Now, the modern women go to self help seminars, shrinks and a Life Coach to learn these basics. All women from the family and friend circle were invited Grandmothers to Granddaughters. The men were in the side lines supporting the event. The new daughter-in-law for whom this function was organised, applied tilak/ 'Haldi Kumkum' for all ladies/ women/ girls and gave us gifts. What an acknowledgment for all the female members of the large social circle. The daughter-in-law also gets connected to all the women tribe and vice versa. The ceremony started with the mother-in-law putting the 'Halwe che daagine' sugar jewellery for the daughter-in-law. The newly married son gets the same from his mother-in-law.
The Dadar market was bustling with people pre and post Sankranti. The steel utensils shops and the plastic household item shops were buzzing with customers. Women were buying gifts to give to all ladies for Haldi Kumkum. Everything was being bought in dozens. I questioned my friend about this kind of buying so much. She said it is your way of showing gratitude to all the women in your life and to the Gods of life, weather, harvest, food and more.
The same time we have ' Bor Choth' or Ganesh Jayanti or Maghi Ganpati. My Grandmom used to make Churma Laddu for Ganpati Bappa's birthday. When I came to Mumbai, I forgot about Bor Choth as we started celebrating Ganpati. Lot of people get Bappa home for Maghi Ganpati in the month of Maagh on the fourth day, which is the original birthday of Ganeshji.
Next day is the fifth day of Maagh month called Basant Panchami. In Gujarati, we called it 'Vasant Paacham'. We pray to Saraswati Mata for knowledge. We wear yellow to signify the onset of spring. In Jharia, all girls wore sarees on this day. We went to Gujarati school for Saraswati Puja darshan. Got little 'halwa' as prasaad. Kept out books near the God at the temple and worshipped it. Did not study the whole day.
Magi Ganpati goes on till Madhav Ashtami which is four days later. Madhav Ashtami is a celebration of Vithoba at Pandharpur. This year Madhav Ashtami coincided with Republic Day. There was Haldi Kumkum in all the Chawls and societies in most areas. I celebrate this weather and be in gratitude of life itself.