As a country with a rich productive agrarian history India is possibly the only place where one can experience all the six seasons, as listed her ancient scriptures and classical literatures as Vasanta, Greeshma, Varsha, Shishira, Hemanta and Sharad, in a given year: Summer, winter, autumn, spring, monsoon and post-monsoon. Most ancient Indian traditions and festivals revolved around the seasons of harvest and cultivation. Be it saffron and poppy in Kashmir, wheat and maze in Punjab or the canes and teas in the northeast and stretching down south to the chilies and rice in Andhra Pradesh to further down in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India has always celebrated its most important lifeline â€“ the farmerâ€™s life and most festivals revolve around these season cycles.
The first two months of Chaitra and Vaisakha on the traditional Hindu calendar, more or less stand as the central months surrounding the celebrations connected to harvest and new years. While many regional cultures celebrate both on the same day or a day apart, it differs from year to year in consultation with the solar and lunar calendar cycles. The first day is celebrated as Lohri in Punjab (the fertile land of five rivers and known as the bread basket state of India, Muatsu Mong and Ahuna in Nagaland, Cheirouba in Manipur and other north eastern states, Makara Sankranthi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Shigmo in the Konkan belt, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu and Onam (post monsoons) in Kerala. Makara Sankramanam literally meaning the transition of the sun from Saggitarius into Capricorn and hence the ending of the winter solstice over the northern hemisphere. This shift in zodiacs is a significant point of celebration within the traditional Hindu calendar.
Most of the rituals surrounding these celebrations are an act of thanksgiving to the lord almighty and Mother Nature for having bestowed a good yield of crops that bring in prosperity. Each of these indigenous names root their meaning in bouquets full of fascinating stories. Considered to be the auspicious time in the Uttarayana or the first half of the year, many legends surround this period. Bhishma, one of the key characters in the classic Mahabharata was supposed to have passed away this season, Bhagiratha liberated the 60,000 sons of King Sagara who were reduced to ashes under the curse of Sage Kapila, by flowing the holy Ganges on them, Lord Vishnu buried the evil asuras under the Mandara mountain, the King Baliâ€™s annual revisiting his lands so on and so forth. These endless tales are often conveyed through the folk songs sung across rural India. Pregnant with stories from ancient Hindu mythology, history and other folklore, these songs are inherited down from generations as a cultural legacy. In Andhra and Karnataka, several communities of folk performing artistes go around streets singing songs seeking alms. They are always fed with great hospitality as they are considered good omens for a family.
The fresh crop, be it rice, wheat, sugarcane, jiggery and other pulses are cooked and offered to the gods before being partaken. The cattle are washed, fed and worshipped on these days and non-vegetarian foods are usually avoided in many cultures as a mark of respect to them. Gifts are shared among friends and well-wishers and the first profits are spent to acquiring new clothes and other important household items. South Indian house draw traditional rangoli or Kolam designs outside their main thresholds as a sign of welcoming the goddess of health and wealth. Each of these designs look very simple and attractive but are rather complicated to make. With an exact set number of dots and lines, these designs are often inherited from mother to daughter in every south Indian Hindu home. In villages, you will find women who havenâ€™t had any schooling in the western medium draw some of the most complicated and perfect of Kolam designs. Kolams in the shape of chariots for the sun god are drawn outside homes to signify and welcome the sun into the new zodiac. This is also the time when the unique nomadic musician tribe go from door to door and village to village with a decorated bull or ox, called â€˜Gangiredduâ€™. They take the animal and bless every family as they go around seeking alms. This is a tradition unique to parts of Andhra and other Telugu speaking regions. Sometimes this is also witnessed during Dusshera. It is considered a good omen to take blessings of these wandering musicians and the decorated bull.
One of the fascinating aspects of these days in Sankranthi is the scientific process of food intake for a person. The new crops are carefully prepared into delicacies that keep the normal bodyâ€™s metabolism active and rejuvenated after the winter season. Most of the preparations contain Jaggery, fresh Coconut, sesame seeds, raw mangoes, neem flowers, the fresh crop of rice or wheat and other essential ingredients which keep the body naturally well protected against any diseases that might be caused by the change in climate. On a philosophical note, it signifies the bodyâ€™s acceptance of all the various tastes that the palate can sense in an equal measure, conveying the idea that one must react to good and bad equally.
India, with its large and scenic landscape, is a proud home to such rich agricultural resources like no other country. Every state in India has an indigenous and colorful lifestyle to flaunt. Itâ€™s the celebration of this fact that is conveyed through the harvest festivals year after year. A humble tradition inherited over generations to show one's gratitude to nature and all it gives, is the soul of these festivals. This is one of the best seasons to travel to any part of the country. You are bound to see India in her full and fertile glory.
Gangireddu in Andhra Region
In the southern states of Andhra, Telangana and Karnataka Chitrannam (Lemon and Mango rice cooked with the fresh mangoes from the season) and Payasam ( rice cooked in milk) are a must have. Tamil Naduâ€™s Pongal is made of fresh rice cooked in jaggery-sweetened milk while the traditional Kuut is made of beaten rice and freshly grated coconut in Kerala. Pongal is celebrated on three days as Bhogi, Surya and Mattu Pongal. On each day a new preparation of rice is made. Rice and pulses cooked with fresh pepper corns and garnished with dry fruits fried in Ghee, rice and fresh jiggery cooked in Ghee and garnished with freshly grated coconut and cashewnuts and so forth. The preperations are endless and each household boasts of their own recipe handed down generations. If you are in any part of south India or are lucky to have south Indian friends, invite yourself over to a good Pongal meal. This is a must-have for the season. All in all as the calendar enters a new zodiac, this is a season to celebrate the coming year ahead!
Images courtesy : Krishnamurthy, Sarita C, Jayanth