I convey my heartfelt wishes on the eve
of the festivals of Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal and Magh Bihu. “On
the auspicious occasion of Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal and Magh Bihu,
I extend warm greetings and good wishes to all my well-wishers. May
these harvest festivals bind the communities and regions of India in
fraternal love and affection. May the festivals mark the commencement of
an era of abundance, prosperity and new opportunities.”
LOHRI FESTIVAL:
Traditional singing and dancing accompanied with sumptuous feast and
bonfire sets up the mood for nonstop celebrations for Lohri festival.
This festival is believed to burn all the moments of sadness and brings
in warmth of happiness and love.
Lohri marks the end of the harvest in Northern India, and is
characterised by the worship of fire. The Lohri fire gets sanctified and
is respected as a deity. This fire (Lohri Bonfire) is considered a
representation of energy and spiritual strength and is lit during the
festival in every household. Various grains like peanuts, popcorn,
puffed rice and similar goodies are ceremonially ‘fed’ to this fire.
What follows, of course, is plenty of feeding to everybody around as
well!
The main ritual during Lohri festival includes chanting prayers in front
of the fire for abundant crops and taking parikramas (three rounds of
the pious fire) while throwing peanuts and sweets in the sacred fire.
After this ritual ‘prasad’ is distributed that includes mainly six
things- sweets like gur, gazak and revdi, peanuts, popcorn and puffed
rice.
The first Lohri of a bride or a newborn baby is considered extremely
important in India, which calls for a great feast. Lohri celebrations
are never complete without music and dance, and feasting is invariably
rounded off with a vigorous bit of shake-a-leg. The traditional dinner
on Lohri includes appetizing traditional Punjabi food like ‘makki ki
roti’ and ‘baajre ki roti’ with ‘sarson ka saag’.
MAKAR SANKRANTI:
Makar Sankranti marks the end of winter, when the sun moves into the
northern hemisphere- thus symbolising regeneration and the start of a
new period. Besides being a significant date in the zodiac, Makar
Sankranti is also a harvest festival and is celebrated throughout the
region as the end of one agrarian cycle.
Traditionally, Makar Sankranti is observed by a ritual bath- in Uttar
Pradesh, in fact, there’s a local belief that anybody who doesn’t bathe
on Makar Sankranti will end up being born a donkey in his or her next
incarnation! The sacred ‘sangam’ at Allahabad- the confluence of the
Ganga and Yamuna- is especially an important place for ritual baths, and
is the venue for a local fair. All across North and West India, flying
kites and feasting on rice and sweets made from sesame seeds is an
integral part of the festivities.
In western India Gujarat and Maharashtra Makar Sankranti is celebrated by flying colourful kites and kite competitions.
PONGAL FESTIVAL:
In Southern India the end of the harvest is observed as a four-day
festival called Pongal which begins on January 14th and last till
January 17th every year with the auspicious time to celebrate Pongal
being from 7 am to 9 am. The Pongal festival is one of the biggest
festivals celebrated in South India and is a thanksgiving for the
plentiful harvest received.
The Pongal festival is celebrated with great pomp and show and people
clean and decorate their houses with flowers and rangoli (kolam) and buy
new clothes. This is when farmers bring newly harvested rice home and
feed their cattle a rice dish called Pongal- from where the festival got
its name, and is dedicated to Lord Surya.
Pongal festival is also celebrated as Tamil Nadu’s New Year Day. The
Pongal festival also happens to coincide with Makar Sankranti that is a
harvest festival celebrated in northern and other parts of India. In
other regions it is known as Lohri, Bihu, Hadaga, and Poki. The
festivities of Pongal also vary to some extent in celebration.
Bhogi Pongal, the first day of the Pongal festival is dedicated to the
worship of the rain God Indra. On this day people rise early, clean
their homes well and decorate it with Kollam and flowers. They then get
dressed in new clothes and offer flowers to the Lord Vinayaka made from
cow dung or turmeric and light traditional lamps.
The second day of the festival is called Surya Pongal is devoted to
Surya, the Sun God. The special Pongal dish is prepared in all homes.
This is essentially a sweet rice dish cooked in milk and is offered to
Lord Ganesha and then to cows and then it is distributed as prasad.
The third day Mattu Pongal is a day dedicated to cattle and other
animals. The day is marked by the worship of the Goddess Parvati and her
son, the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha. This is also the day when
cattle- an indispensable part of life in all villages- are bathed and
decorated, then paraded through the villages. The procession is followed
by cattle races, and in some instances, bullfights which are locally
known as ‘jallikattu’- bags full of money are tied to the horns of
bulls, and young men endeavour to wrestle with the bulls to get the bags
off (and keep the change for themselves, of course!)
The fourth and the final day of the Pongal festival which is
traditionally known as Kannum Pongal is the day when the families relax,
visit each other and have lunch with friends and family. This is
considered a very auspicious day when people visit their family and
friends and rejoice. On this day there are folk dance performances
accompanied by music and song.
MAGH BIHU:
The Assamese equivalent of Makar Sankranti and Pongal, Magh Bihu or
Bhogali Bihu too is a harvest festival. Magh Bihu marks the end of the
rice harvesting season, and is especially important in agrarian
communities. For the occasion, a hut-like structure, called a meji ghar,
is constructed from thatch and firewood. It’s erected in the shorn rice
fields, and is ritually set aflame during the festivities. Community
feasts are held near the meji ghar, and are accompanied by much
merrymaking, including dance and music, bullfights and birdfights.
From ancient times Bihus are the national festivals celebrated in Assam.
There are three Bihus celebrated, that signify the different phases of
farming. Read more for details on Bihus, special events in Assam.

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