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All the treats prepared during the festival across the state are made with these ingredients: fresh farm produce, jaggery and sesame seeds.

Ellu Bella - a mixture of jaggery, sesame seeds, dry fruits and coconut - served on Sankranti in KarnatakaPicxy/Manju Mandavya
Features Food Monday, January 11, 2021 - 17:57

Makara Sankranthi, the harvest festival, is just around the corner. People discard their old and worn-out goods and replace them with newer ones to welcome good fortune. In Karnataka, homes sport a festive look with front porches decorated with vivid rangolis (decorative drawings made on the floor using rice flour and colours). Ellu bella (a mixture of sesame seeds [ellu] and jaggery [bella]) is customarily served to family and friends.

In some parts of India, kites are flown on the day to mark Uttarayana, the northward movement of the sun which is said to be auspicious. However, for a year now festivities have been low-key owing to the pandemic. Colourful kites may not grace the skies as usual this year, but people will strive to serve the delicacies prepared specially during Sankranthi to mark the festival. 

Karnataka cuisine is a mélange of multiple styles of cooking. Reflections of food habits from neighbouring states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala can be experienced in each distinct cuisine of the state. The northern, southern and coastal belts of Karnataka are ethno linguistically diverse and so is their cuisine. The food, however, has found a way to transcend these differences. All the treats made during the festival of Sankranthi across the state are replete with these specific ingredients: fresh farm produce, jaggery and sesame seeds.


Bisibelebath made with carrots, peas, eggplants, potatoes, lentils and rice. Image source: Wikimedia Commons/FoodandRemedy

On Bhogi, the day before Sankranthi, people enjoy a simple yet delicious spread of Sajji bhakri (flatbread made from jowar and coated with sesame seeds), a thick layer of benne (freshly churned unsalted butter) and Badanekai yennegai (a curry made with small eggplants, carrots and peas simmered in a gravy made from powdered groundnut, sesame seeds and jaggery).


The sweet dish Kadabu that is filled with jaggery, sesame seeds and coconut. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/Kart127

Another Sankranthi favourite is Hasi kadale kaalu palya – fresh groundnuts and green chickpeas tossed in a tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaves, Bengal gram dal and asafoetida, garnished with freshly grated coconut. In the southern parts of the state, avarekalu (hyacinth beans) is the legume that is largely consumed and is used to make a range of dishes, including side dishes. Hitikida avarekalu saaru (a stew made with hyacinth beans, lentils and spices) is specially made during festivals. Avarekalu usli is prepared with similar ingredients and can be made as either a sweet or savoury treat. The usli is usually paired with ragi mudde (finger millet steamed balls) or dosas.

On the main Sankranthi day, the spread tends to lean towards sweeter dishes. Popular dishes are Ellu holige (similar to Puran poli, this dessert has a filling of sesame seeds and jaggery), Ellu unde (sesame seed, peanut and jaggery truffle), Payasa (vermicelli or rice pudding), Kadabu (fried dish with a filling made from sesame seed powder, peanut powder, coconut, jaggery and dry fruits) and Pongal — both sweet and savoury variants.


The sweet variant of Pongal also called Sakkarai Pongal. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/ V Sharmilee

Avarekalu bath or Bisibelebath (blend of rice, lentils, vegetables and spices) are commonly prepared on the day too. The main course dishes are served with sides like Kosambari (salad with a tempering) or Mekke jola usli (steamed corn kernels coarsely ground into a paste and topped with tempering) while some Shenga hindi or Shenga pudi (powdered blend of spices, chillies and roasted peanuts) seals the deal. 

A helping of Puliogare (spicy tamarind rice) or Chitranna (lemon rice) with some of the delightful desserts treats one’s palate to rich flavours. 

Makara Sankranthi is celebrated as a way to thank Mother Earth for her produce and this can be seen in the festival platter. If you happen to be in Karnataka during this time, make sure to partake in the celebrations while following the necessary COVID-19 protocols and treat yourself to a hearty Sankranthi meal.

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