Last week, Ratna Prabha Khare was particularly busy. The Maharashtrian homemaker was roasting sesame seeds and pounding jaggery. Her home filled with the heady aroma of
as she stirred the bubbling mixture, then rolled it into perfectly shaped
The little mountain of
stirred up plenty of excitement in the Khare household as the family waited impatiently for Makar Sankranti to bite into them.
The harvest festival is a time for new beginnings. In Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka it is celebrated as Makar Sankranti, in Gujarat and Rajasthan it goes by the name of Uttarayan, Punjab hosts the Lohri, Assam brings in Bihu and Tamil Nadu prides in its Pongal. What ties them all together is the food.
Pile up the
Given the cold season and the new crops, foods that leave you with a feeling of warmth take over the platter.
The smell of fresh jaggery permeates the air while freshly harvested sesame is used not just to make
but also for bathing, massage,
(the Sun God is offered sesame and water) and given away as charity.
In Maharashtrian households, til gud along with dried betel leaves are offered to visiting friends and family with the saying,
Til gud khya god god bola
(eat til gud and speak sweet words).
At Anu Padhiar's house in Borivali, Uttarayan is time for family and food. While the men and the kids in this Gujarati household make their way to the terrace, armed with kites and maanja, the ladies gather in the kitchen to prepare
(seasonal vegetable mix),
Pandhiar makes til
with a coin in the center. They are distributed generously among the along with stalks of juicy sugarcane.
Dal baati khao
Uttarayan for the Khandelwal family from Rajasthan is a time for charity. Malad-based businesswoman, Bhawna Khandelwal, prepares the
for the family meal herself.
, a flaky sesame, jaggery and sugar treat, is bought mostly from Jaipur and distributed among family members and the poor, along with presents.
dominate Makar Sankranti festivities in Manjula Pathak's family. Pathak who's from Uttar Pradesh, breaks her day-long fast with a hot meal of multigrain
moong daal khichdi
served with generous dollops of ghee.
and of course,
are made and gifted to the elders of the family.
This year Rachna Khanna's newborn nephew will celebrate his first Lohri. Fifty boisterous Punjabis will crowd into her Vashi home and bring in the festival with song, dance, thick, soaked-in-ghee
makke di rotis
and rich green
sarson ka saag
served with ladlefuls of creamy homemade butter.
In the evening, piles of
(sugared til candy),
and popcorn will be passed around a bonfire as friends and families dance to the tunes of the traditional
At Cauveri Parijat's home in Thane, Bihu is a subdued affair when you compare it to the celebrations in her hometown Guwahati. Her mother makes the customary rice pancakes, pitha, with jaggery, sesame and coconut filling.
She misses out on the
(rice pancakes steamed in bamboo stems) and the
made with coconut,
outside the Vishwanathans house is indicative of the Pongal festival. Padma Viswanathan wakes up early to prepare the chakra pongal, a traditional Tamil dish of rice, moong daal and sugar.
It is placed eastwards, decorated with lime, turmeric and kumkum and first offered to the Sun God. The other Pongal speciality is
(balls of rice flour).