India’s multi-state and multi-cultural festivals centred on Makar Sankranti got underway on Friday despite two separate ban on a lethal kite string and animal sports that are integral parts of the celebrations.
Despite a national ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal, the razor-sharp kite string, manza, blamed for human and animal deaths is still available on several e-commerce websites.
And people are defying a Supreme Court ban to continue with the tradition of cock fights in Andhra Pradesh and Assam, bull cart race in Punjab and Maharashtra and the controversial bull-taming sport Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu.
Makar Sankranti marks the end Malmaas, an inauspicious month in the Hindu calender, and the transition of the Sun to the zodiacal sign of Makar (Capricorn) to herald a change in season.
“Makar Sankrati’s special significance is the Sun rays coming from the direction of North which is supposed to be the abode of gods. Hence, from this day, good forces are on the rise and the power of evil forces which reside in the direction of South diminishes,” said Pt Anand Shankar Vyas of Ujjain.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated across the country with different names. While in the north it is celebrated as Lohri, in Assam as Bhogali Bihu and in the south as Pongal.
But, for the last few years, the celebrations in Tamil Nadu had been mired in a political controversy over the Supreme Court’s decision to ban Jallikattu, saying it causes torture to the animal.
The ban has evoked strong reaction with even celebrities like Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth opposing the ban saying one cannot curb tradition in name of animal welfare.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu on Friday organised protests across the state against the apex court’s refusal to pronounce a verdict before the Pongal festival on Saturday.
The state’s opposition party DMK also accused the Centre and the AIADMK government of “not taking appropriate, timely steps” to ensure that the event was conducted.
“Jallikattu is our tradition, but the Centre and state government have failed to get us the permission to conduct it,” said DMK leader MK Stalin. “The Centre should bring an ordinance immediately, and the state should ensure that it’s followed.”
The four-day Pongal celebrations in Tamil Nadu began on Friday Bhogi, when people burn discarded items.
Thai Pongal, which is the main day of festivities, will be celebrated on Saturday. Traditionally, Pongal is made in households across the state using freshly harvested rice grains. Maatu Pongal, the third day, is traditionally when Jallikattu events are held.
Assam celebrates the mid-January Bhogali or Magh Bihu – a festival of feasting from Friday night -- with a difference.
Officially, there will be no buffalo fight at Ahatguri in central Assam and bulbul bird fight at the Hayagrib-Madhab temple complex at Haju, west of Guwahati, in view of the Supreme Court ban, sources said it may be organised unofficially considering the sentiment of the locals attached.
In Madha Pradesh, holy bath and pooja are witnessed on the bathing ghats of Narmada river at Amarkantak, Jabalpur, Omkareshwar, Hoshangabad and several other places.
People also offer to the poor and needy food grains mainly rice, pulses and til (sesame seeds). Khichari and laddoos made of til are special dishes on the day.
In north, where Lohri means start of harvest season in Punjab and Haryana, the dip in January temperature close to zero degree Celsius has dampened the spirits. Festivities have been organised for Friday night Lohri bonfire and cultural events. This year farmers expect a good winter crop because of above normal monsoon, a reason for cheer.
In states such as Hayana and Rajasthan, Makar Sankranti is being celebrated to propagate girl child through campaigns such as “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” and “Hamara Garv, Hamari Betiyan”. In Rajasthan, scholarships will be given to girls for school to college studies.
Arrangements are being made for special prayers meetings and pujas to be held at city temples and gurudwaras to mark Makar Sakranti on January 14.
Hindus from Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana go to Kurukshetra’s Brahmasarovar and Haridwar in Uttarakhand to take holy dip in Ganga. Maghi mela is also organised in Punjab at Muktsar. People from all over Punjab gather at Muktsar Sahib for Maghi Mela and it is one of the Punjab’s major fairs. It has religious significance for Sikhs.
(With inputs from HT correspondents in Chennai, Bhopal, Chandigarh and Guwahati)