Food, Festivities and Tradition: Harvest Festivals Across India
Welcome to a brand-new year! It is such a beautiful thing that the start of the new year also marks a season that India celebrates with great excitement and joy. Yes, it is the harvest season across the country and we thought it might be a good idea to do a roundup of how different regions in India rejoice the occasion.
So, the ‘tradition’ of celebrating the season of harvest as a festival has been around for eons. Ever since mankind began cultivating produce for self-sufficiency and subsequently business, the agriculture culture has been given its due importance. Different cultures around the world have their own distinct ways of celebrating the harvest season at different times of the year, depending on the regions where crops are cultivated and the differences in climates.
The simple reason for celebrating the occasion is to be grateful for an abundant yield. While we can’t possibly cover all the harvest festivals from around the world in one article, here’s a few from our very own country.
Makar Sankranti marks the onset of the harvest season in our nation and is a festival that is celebrated across geographies in several idiosyncratic ways. In fact, it even has different names depending on which part of the country you belong to! Observed on 14th January every year, Makar Sankranti is essentially a Hindu festival that signifies the commencement of the yields that are a result of the farmers’ months of sweat and toil. In Maharashtra, sweets are a massive part of the celebrations with the line ‘Til Gul Ghya Ani Goad-Goad Bola’ being heard in every house and workplace. With delectable food preparations and new clothes, the festival is celebrated by meeting near and dear ones, flying kites, exchanging gifts and pleasantries galore.
Makar Sankranti goes by several different names around India. It is called Lohri in northern India, Maghi in Punjab, Poush Sankranti in West Bengal, Shishur Saenkraat in Kashmir, Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu in Assam and Pongal in Tamil Nadu.
The Punjabi festival that marks the end of winter and the arrival of warmer days, Lohri is celebrated on 13th January. It is no surprise that when we speak about Punjabi festivities, there has to be a whole lot of music, dance, colors, and mouth-watering feasts. Typically, bonfires are lit and people take rounds around the fire, dancing and singing happy songs to the beats of the dhol.
Referred to as Pongal in southern India, the four-day harvest festival begins on 14th January and ends on 18th January. As a token of respect and gratitude, newly-reaped rice is offered to the Sun God (some call it the Indian equivalent of Thanksgiving) to honour a bountiful harvest. On these four days, you are likely to see beautiful rangolis (or Kolam) outside houses and offices, lots of family meetups and unique events such as bullfighting, birds fighting, Jallikattu and dance performances. The Pongal delicacy, i.e., rice and boiled milk, is a hot favorite on this occasion and is savored by one and all. It is typically cooked out in the open, as an offering to the Sun God.
Assam’s beloved Magh Bihu (or Bhogali Bihu) festival celebrates a shift in the sun’s position (solstice) and the end of the harvest season. The Assamese diaspora all over the world revels on the occasion with Bihu folk songs, dances and a whole lot of feasting! Community feasts, exchanging sweets and playing regional sports such as cockfights, buffalo fights and more. Bonfires, drum beats and prayers to the God of Fire are the typical elements of Magh Bihu celebrations, apart from rice cakes that form the central character of the festival feast.
While each of these festivals and their vernacular versions bring something different to the table in terms of history, tradition, and celebration, common aspects of the festivities include shopping for new clothes, preparation of a variety of food and a whole of group activities that include singing, dancing and playing games.
Before you know it, it will be time for Basant Panchami in February and another crowd favorite in March – the colorful Hindu harvest festival of Holi! More on that later…
Until then, here is hoping that our generous motherland continues to shower us with love, happiness and of course, a lavish harvest year after year.
From Team Seniority, here’s wishing you all a happy new year and a prosperous harvest season!