by Dr. Madhav Prabhu
In my view, the most innate reflex of us the common Belgaumites is to rejoice is to be happy and to share our blessing with others. Here we laugh aloud and express openly, things presumed to be poor manners in some quarters. We don’t need occasions to party and life itself is one big celebration. We seldom crib over how little we have but are optimistic of things to come.
Come January and there is a fervent chill in the city, I mean literally, the city has an acute drop in temperature and people rush back home early, there is happiness and there is warmth in our houses.
But there is much more happiness in the villages around us as this is the time to reap what you have sown, to reap what you have toiled for half the year in your field, it’s time for Sankrantri the festival of golden harvest.
People ask us how do you know winter has arrived and we at Belagavi have our own indicators, outsiders may not recognize these signs. The days are shorter and nights are longer, just the way any lazy person like me would prefer. Coming to the signs first as we go shopping we see the Belagavi watana(Peas) in the market, this little green pleasure is seen almost exclusively in Belagavi and only in this season. This is also the only season when we see fresh green harbara, which is the favorite of every child, young and old. We see the Tibetans in Ramdev Galli bring an extra stock of sweaters. If you go around the city and see these things you know winter is upon us.
But it’s not the winter that’s the subject of this blog and however romantic it may be, winter is mostly spent coughing and sneezing. The fun begins at the end of winter and that’s when it’s time for Sankrantri, the festival of the sun.
Sankranti is when the fields are harvested and ready for the Rabi crop. There is plentiful stock which needs to go to the warehouse, the farmer is in awe at his crops and is happy, his joy knows no bounds, his efforts are going to finally pay, it’s time his heart sings and he can’t but dance to the Suggi tune, for he knows happy days are to come. What best to share this joy but to come together with everyone in the neighborhood, sit together, sing, dance, eat and share, and this is all that Sankrantri is about.
The celebrations start one day before Sankranti in Belagavi and we call it Bhogi. Here on the day of Bhogi women worship earthen pots which contain several smaller ones, they are called Budkula(Sugad) and are kept in the place of worship, symbolic of prosperity and good luck they are decorated and filled with rice.
We do actually have a Bhog on that day which is made of bajri bhakri, mixed vegetable with brinjal, malida, groundnut chutni, til chutni, phutana chatni and garlic chutni and to top it up some yummy curd rice. When the food is so yummy how can you eat it alone and you can see households sharing the food with each other, as kids we used to wait for the bhakri coming from my mother’s friends who always made it a point to see that we got more than adequate dose of their love.
The sajji roti is a harder version of the routine one and is yumm with the brinjal. Women carry rotis and visit friends exchanging food, people visit each other’s home to savor their delights and nobody should remain hungry that day. This is the true India we belong to, food and love are to be shared, they don’t taste good if kept to yourself. Modern times have taken away this practice of sharing, we have started living with ourselves, not needing to socialize except on social media, sajji rotis are available in the market, but they never have the taste of our adorable aunties.
You just can’t stop eating these traditional favourites. Just when you have settled with the spices of the day and you feel your tummy is full you wake up to Sankrantri. There are several traditions associated with Sankrantri.
The hero of the day, however, is the Tilgul, til for sesame and gul for jaggery, til gul are prepared a week in advance. Let’s look at the two main ingredients of tilgul, and you have to trust the wisdom of your elders in selecting these two. Til or sesame is an indigenous product of India. It’s a crop that is drought resistant and can be available easily. Sesame has been shown to reduce blood pressure in some studies. Sesame also has oil and is good in this season.
The other ingredient is jaggery the only sweetener available before sugars made their entry. Belagavi and neighboring Kolhapur are famous for jaggery, in fact so sweet was the jaggery that if you would meet a sweet person you would describe him to be as sweet as Kolhapuri jaggery ( Kolhapuri gula sarkha ), jaggery is high in iron and highly nutritious. But for the festival let’s forget the nutrition, here its only about the taste buds.
The tilgul is like the hero of a Bollywood blockbuster for that day, everyone likes him. Traditionally speaking tilgul is a laddoo made up of jaggery and sesame seeds but then we also get the white ones made of sugar syrup. No don’t think that’s it, you also have ones with the groundnut at the center, with cashew at the center and so on. The Jaggery ones are of two types, the hard ones like the Revdi and the softer ones that melt in your mouth. The white ones are produced in bulk and hence more prevalent in everyone’s hands. The best white ones are small in size with sharp thorns, the quality decreases as the size increases, the small ones are made only by a few people now and are difficult to find.
There is no one recipe for the jaggery tilgul, every household has theirs and that’s what makes them unique. Some add more of jaggery, some like it with poppy seeds, some like to add a nutty flavour and some like to add ghee. But how it is made and where it is made makes no difference, what matters is that it trades hands. Traditionally tilgul was made at home, later bought from Ganpat galli and Nargundkar chowk, today we find traders selling it almost in every street.
The kids enjoy tilgul the most. For kids the tilgul story starts with the tilgul box. The most attractive box to store the tilgul wins at school. All types of boxes are available, heart-shaped, leaf-shaped, pyramidal, triangular and so on. Every year the tilgul remain the same but the box had to change. Once the box was settled, you go after the tilgul, you have to have the right mix of white and colors, although they all tasted the same, eating green, orange, purple and yellow was special, often tilgul change hands just to have more colours Childhood is so beautiful, the sugar content does not make a difference, the colours of sweets do as grown-ups all we do is count calories and not memories. Shouldn’t life be like this, think of all the colours and forget the burden of calories of pain and sadness.
If you would get lucky you got the groundnut one, but you know what, the bigger ones are difficult to fit in the beautiful boxes. Once you have the right box and the right colors in the box you are set for Sankranthi. You just have to go from home to home and exchange tilgul and say “tilgul ghya goood goood bola”, we convent educated wanted English and said “take sweet, talk sweet and be sweet”.
There is another event for the kids and that’s the Bor Nhan, this was done by many families, if a kid is born in your house you give it a bath with all the goodies on Sankrantri, is not just the bath, the child is decorated with ornaments of tilgul too. Traditionally the Paranjape family was famed with the tilgul jewelry it but now it is freely available. The fun part is you call all the kids in the locality and there used to be competition amongst the kids as to who would get maximum goodies from the shower.
There is also the kites, well there are kite festivals now but traditionally it was only the start of the kit season, we still had to wait for exams to get over before we could fly freely like the kite. The kites were of different colors and filled the sky with vibrant appearances. The kids and the young can spend hours under the sun flying kites, something kids with computer games today miss to enjoy. Now you know why Vitamin D deficiency was not that rampant in our ancestors as it is in us. Kites were readily available in Ganpat galli, camp and Burud galli, while the thread or manja was prepared from the ground glass at home.
The women hmm, the women they never fail to amaze you, I always believe God created women as the most precious element of all. Ok, guess what women do? on Sankrantri. Yes, it is anyone’s guess they tear into the husband’s pockets and celebrate the spoils of his wallets. This little adventure is then given the name of haldi kumkum, a celebration of the husband’s existence so that he cannot say a word even though his pockets are empty.
So what’s a haldi kumkum, it’s a kitty party where gifts are given, tilgul exchanged and gossip done. The preparation is not simple, the house is given a holy wash, the husband has to clean everything from the windows to the ceiling fans, he is like an apprentice to the maid. The home is decorated such that nobody gets a chance to gossip about it. The women then enter each others homes dressed in the best of jewellery and sarees and armed with tilguls, they speak sweetly with everyone on that one day and chat their heart away, it’s more like a naughty what’s app group and the admin has no control.
This is one occasion when you are allowed to wear black. I always felt black to be the most underrated color, imagine a life without black. It would be a monotonous lacklustre shade cart. But on Sankrantri black gets the status it deserves for atleast one day, like the tilgul. The gifts are then given to every attendee in the haldi kumkum, gifts are called waan and the better the gift the happier the shrimatis. Tilgul are exchanged and invites extended as this goes on for a week.
Think of the poor husband, he works in the field, cleans the home, buys the waan, and then has to stay away from his own house so it does not feel crowded and the women can gossip unabated.
Some families have another wonderful tradition, there is a family picnic, especially those who have fields, the entire family goes to the field on a picnic, if you don’t own a farm there is always a river side temple, the idea is to sit together, eat together, laugh together and enjoy the warm comforting sunlight while it lasts.
Sankrantri is a festival of joy, a festival when families and friends have to come out of their homes, meet each other, eat with each other, gift each other, dance with each other, laugh with each other, all this built societies, made friends and increased bonds of togetherness. These bonds are built in happiness but support you in times of peril.
Today Facebook and what’s app are the only means of social interactive, we don’t see people we see only profiles and somewhere we have no bonds of love but bonds of likes on Facebook, we have groups on what’s app but can’t form groups on playgrounds, I believe and i prescribe, let’s leave our mobiles out for a day, go out there, share our joy and say ” TILGUL GHYA GOOOD GOOOD BOLA”.