In India harvest festival is celebrated in the middle of January (13, 14, 15, 16) with each of the days being celebrated for different reasons. It is interesting to see how small acts from a cultural standpoint have a huge impact on the community and our lifestyles!
The festivals are called by different names but celebrated with similar enthusiasm and rigor across the country!
Understanding the reason behind the festivals helps in following the same in spirit, passing it down the across generations!
Jan 13th – Bhogi Lohri
This festival is celebrated to learn to let go and burn away our bad habits, old things, unused items at home and de-clutter (both mind and home).
What is usually put in the fire? Once a year, a de-cluttering activity is taken up at the onset of the year. Old clothes, old and torn bedsheets, run down mats and mattresses, broken stuff around the house, cardboard boxes, sacks that used to hold rice and grain earlier etc are usually put in the fire.
One of my colleagues developed a smoke pollution meter measuring how long the smoke lasted – lasts for about 4-5 hours after which the city smoke and pollution levels get back to normal state.
This is one of the BEST ways I have seen to de-clutter the house. Anything that can be donated to other family members or relatives or help staff are kept aside and the items that are run down are burnt away. Avoids moving the pile of stuff from one place to another around the house constantly.
Jan 14th – Pongal / Makar Sankranthi
This festival best seen celebrated in villages or near temples, where women light up the fire and put earthern pots on it filled with water, rice and lentils and cook them in the open air (dish and festival being called as Pongal). The freshly harvested rice and lentils are cooked for the first time and offered to God and then eaten as prasad (holy offering).
The right side picture is when the mixture in the pot starts to boil over – representing abundance! Communities shout “Pongal-O-Pongal” and celebrate it with pomp and show!
Seeking blessings from parents and relatives and elderly is very common on this day! Along with blessings, children get new clothes, newly-wed couple get new clothes and gold jewelry, and festivity fills the air.
In some cultures, small dolls are made to celebrate the occasion and Sankranthi kolu (arrangement of dolls) is done to celebrate the occasion!
Huge rangoli (Kolam) patterns are made with rice flour in front of the entrance of homes, colored and decorated with flowers and in some places with cow dung (to ward off the evil eye). Competitions are conducted in the neighborhoods to sustain the sense of community.
Jan 15th Maattu Pongal (a.k.a Kanu)
This festival is celebrated to thank the birds and animals around us. Different cultures have specific rituals to celebrate for cows, crows, birds and different animals.
One ritual specifically about feeding birds (the on the leaf above) is interesting!
Sisters and their children and in-laws come together and perform this festival. There is a poem that is recited during the same, in a way that makes me feel that the conversation is carried forward through the crows and birds as intangible memories to the next generation. Mixed rice of various types are made and served on that day for all relatives and eaten together after the birds finish eating.
Poem that is recited on this day while offering food to crows / birds
I am making a rice ball for the crow
I am making a rice ball for my daughter
May the crow / bird get to eat it and live a long life
May I get to eat it and live a long life
May the crow / bird and the families they were born in, live long
May my family where I was born in, live long
May the crow / bird and the families where they will get married and go, live long
May my in laws and their families live long
May the crow / bird and I live together for long
The thought behind living in unison with the rest of the species and thinking about the welfare of our homes and our in-laws in unison with birds and animals seems to be a wonderful way to express togetherness that can last across generations!
Sarvo jana sukhinobhavantu
Reading this article – a friend shared this version of the song (realized there are many versions of the poems.. essence seems to be the same though)
Jan 16th Kaanum Pongal
Mostly in North India, the celebrations are for 3 days. In Tamil Nadu, the fourth day is dedicated to meeting friends and relatives. Usually no one stays at home that day and everyone tries to spend some time outside. Visit relatives, grand parents, local fairs in the city, beaches etc and spend time with friends and families outside of home. It is like a day-off from celebrations and cooking for women at home.
It is believed that when one celebrates a festival and gets blessings from elders, one bad omen in their life can be avoided!
Wishing you happiness and abundance of prosperity during the festive season!