Sankranti is an Indian festival that follows the English calendar every year, occurring on the 14th or 15th of January. This day marks the beginning of the Uttarayan, which is determined by the sun’s position and its entry into the Makar Rashi. Have you ever wondered why the sun is rarely seen in the exact east? This is because it is tilted to the south for half the year and to the north from now until Diwali. This is why the year is divided into Dakshinayan and Uttarayan.
As the cold conditions reach their peak, what better way to warm up than to indulge in the delicious sweets that are made during this time? From til laddoos to Barfis made with dried coconut, ghee, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, jaggery, edible gum, and dry fruits, to the Bajra roti-brinjal bhaji-dollops of white butter menu and an array of chutneys, the day before Sankranti (also called Bhogi in North Karnataka and Maharashtra) is a feast for the senses.
On the main day, Gul-polis are prepared with kneaded jaggery, poppy, and sesame seeds, and are eaten with hot milk and ghee. Celebrating Sankranti is a wonderful way to enjoy the winter season and savor the delicious treats that come with it!
Belagavi and its surrounding areas continue to celebrate Sankranti with enthusiasm until Rathasaptami. The tilgul that is commonly found today is usually made of sugar with a hint of lime for a white effect. Eating a handful of these can be a painful experience, as it often leads to mouth ulcers.
However, the homemade varieties of tilgul are much more delicious, as they are made by coating each sesame or cashew seed in sugar syrup early in the morning when the cold air gives it a unique texture. During this time, one can also indulge in the groundnut or cashew nut halwa, as well as the jaggery and sesame revadi, which will bring back fond memories of childhood treats.
Women don their shimmering black chandrakalas or sarees, and even the tiniest tots are draped in the same hue. This is because black absorbs the most heat, making it the perfect choice for the occasion. Interestingly, this is the only time when even the most orthodox women wear black, a color that is otherwise avoided.
The Haldi Kumkum function is another beautiful custom associated with Sankranti. Women are invited to each other’s homes, where they are served sweets and a thoughtful gift, known as vaan. These gifts range from combs and kerchieves to more elaborate dry fruit boxes and sarees. Care is taken to ensure that no two households receive the same gift, making each one unique.
For the middle-class women of the past, this was a chance to look forward to receiving small gifts that were exclusively theirs. Although it may not have been of monetary value, the joy it brought was priceless. It also presented an opportunity to visit neighbours and network.
Finally, Sankranti calls for the special custom of Bor-nhan, where kids aged 1-5 are bathed in a mixture of diced sugarcane and carrots, chocolates, green pods of horse-gram, tiny pea pods, currency coins, tilgul, and puffed rice. This is done amidst a flurry of women and children, eager to collect the delicacies.
Such warm rituals and customs make Sankranti all the more endearing. This festival serves multiple purposes; it not only brings joy to weary souls, but also brings people together in a spirit of laughter and warmth. It reminds us that it is always appropriate to be kind, to speak kindly, and to enjoy sweet treats.