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Welcoming New Year in an old way

Indians are celebrating with much gusto Makar Sankranti in their own traditional way, writes Meeta Chaitanya.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2006 21:13 IST

It would be hard to imagine the onset of a new season of hope and harvest when you are in the midst of a wavering but tempestuous cold wave, like the one Atlanta often witnesses around this time of the year.

Still, Indians from every community are celebrating with much gusto the Makar Sankranti festival in their own traditional way, adding warmth and character to the Indian panorama.

Quite unlike other major festivals of India as Diwali, Holi, Id, Christmas, which are celebrated across the country in a more or less similar fashion, (though none of the variations are quite the same), this harvest festival of India-Sankranti -- is as inherently unified region to region as it is ubiquitous and popular.

Deemed variously as Lodi, Pongal, Sankranti, Pedda Panduga, this festival of the land pays homage to mother earth and other primal forces of nature that ensure a healthy yield for farmers all across. It also marks the symbolical change of the position of stars astrologically, thereby becoming the harbinger of a new phase, a new season and a new year.

Traditionally, all forms of worship and celebration agree that Sankranti is when the Sun astronomically and astrologically, begins its journey to the Northern Hemisphere in the Makara rasi, inaugurating the Uttarayana Punyakalam, a new seasonal chapter.

In most parts of Northern India, mostly in cities lining the holy rivers such as the Ganges, people begin the day by taking dips in the holy waters while paying obeisance to the Sun. A corollary to that event can be traced in vast numbers of Indians making it to the temples here early on in the day and performing various yajnas and special archanas in the morning. Children are a significant part of this event and can be seen dressed in their ebullient Indian finery, including small sets of dhoti-kurtas and lehengas.

Many parents take the time out to relate stories from our rich mythological legacy during this time such as the one most commonly associated with this festival- the story of Bhishma Pitamah from Mahabharata. This was the auspicious hour that the grand old man of the Kauravas and Pandavas chose to depart from this world.

To Hindus, the attainment of Moksha, the end of the soul's journey, is the highest theological aspiration, and it is believed that anyone who dies during this period is granted just that. This is perhaps the reason why so many families here perform special prayers for their departed elders during this time.

Coming back to the concept of the bountiful earth- those members of the Diaspora who are especially knitted within the farmer's legacy and who have a palpable connection with rural, real India make special efforts to make the day a momentous one. Since Pongal is a token of thanksgiving for good harvest, community parties centre on the verdant themes of plentiful feasting and galas laced with til (sesame), maize and rice offerings.

Makar Sankrant- Tilgul Ghya Ani Gode Bola celebrations, for instance are being organised by the Maharashtra Mandal of Atlanta and will consist of comedy dramas and various video game activities for kids among other things on 21st January at Alpharetta. It may be reminiscent of the spirit of friendship and goodwill that the festival symbolises in for all Marathas.

Parallel to the festivities in south India -- Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu in particular -- Indians here can be seen attired traditionally, visiting friends and exchanging homemade sweetmeats and delicacies smothered in coconut, sesame, jaggery and rice. The Telugu Association of Metro Atlanta is presenting leading Telugu singer Usha Garu as a part of its celebration spread. Sankranti Celebration organized by the Hindu Temple promises to be a winner too.

The celebrations here may appear scattered and spurious but in reality they are as sonorous and bright as the Gangasagar Mela, rangoli, lodi and the multi-coloured kites that dot the Indian skies. And irrespective of where we come from individually, when we bond over the harvest bonfire, we can only but remember where we are. With celebrations as this, fortunately it isn't too far from home.

First Published: Jan 17, 2006 21:13 IST