by Swatee Jog
Sankranti is the only Indian Festival that adheres to the English calendar every year, coming on the 14th or 15th of January. Following the sun’s position and its entry into the Makar Rashi exactly on the same date every year, this day marks the beginning of the Uttarayan. Have you wondered why the sun is rarely seen to the exact East? Half the year it is tilted to the south and from now on up to Diwali it will be tilted North. That is why the year is divided into Dakshinayan and Uttarayan. The cold conditions have peaked right now and what better way to soothe shivering souls than devour the sweets that are made during this time. Til laddoos, barfis made with dried coconut, ghee, sesame seeds(til), poppy seeds ( khaskhas), jaggery, edible gum and dry fruits, the bajra roti- brinjal bhaji-dollops of white butter menu and an array of chutneys shimmer in a laden plate on the day before Sankranti, also called Bhogi in North Karnataka and Maharsahtra. The main day demands the preparation of Gul-polis, with kneaded jaggery, poppy and sesame seeds, eaten with hot milk and ghee.
Belgaum and its adjoining areas continue the Sankranti fervor right upto Rathasaptami. The tilgul that we find today are most of the times made of sugar with some lime for the white effect. Try eating a fistful and you are guaranteed to get mouth ulcers. But try the home-made varieties, the not so white but tasty tilgul is made by coating every seed of sesame/ cashew in sugar syrup early in the morning, in the biting cold which lends it its unique spikes. You can also gorge on the ground nut/ cashew nut varieties of Halwa available at this time as also the jaggery and sesame revadi, so reminiscent of school day indulgences years ago.
Women bring out their shimmering black chandrakalas or any black saree and even tiny tots are draped in black. The colour absorbs the maximum heat and hence the custom. It must be the only time when womenfolk, even the orthodox ones, wear black which is an otherwise shunned colour. Another beautiful custom that comes with Sankranti is the Haldi Kumkum function where womenfolk are invited to each other’s house and served sweets along with a gift! This gift, also called vaan, is a thoughtful one, ranging from combs, kerchieves, peelers, small bags of sugar, coffee pouches, soaps, bowls, bottles of kumkum, bindi packets to the more elaborate dry fruit boxes or even sarees. Care is taken that no two households have the same gift and each time, a novel item makes its entry. If you think deeply, you can imagine the happiness in the minds of the middle-class womenfolk in the bygone era, to look forward and receive small gifts which only she is entitled to. It may not mean monetary profit, but the joy is what matters. It also presented itself as an opportunity to visit neighbours and was a way of networking! Sankranti also calls for the special custom of Bor-nhan or bathing kids of age 1-5 in a mixture of diced sugarcane and carrots, chocolates, green pods of horse-gram (harbhara), tiny pea pods, currency coins, tilgul, puffed rice (churmure) and the like amidst women and kids who gush to collect the delicacies.
Such warm rituals and customs makes Sankranti all the more endearing. A festival is meant to serve multiple purposes. If it brightens the harried souls, brings people together amidst laughter and spreads warmth, it has served its purpose. And it reminds us that it’s never out of time and place to eat sweet, be sweet, talk sweet.