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January 14th                                         Happy Makar Sankranti!                 (Written by Sonal Kulshrestha) 

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(Photo Credit: WikiCommons) 

14th of January is celebrated all over India by Hindus by various different names. It's Makar Sankranti in most parts of north India, Pongal in parts of south India, etc. 

Those of us who are from Punjab or have friends from Punjab, have probably partied on Lohri. It's the Punjabi New Year celebrated a day before Sankranti. We do know that for the Punjabis, the first Lohri of a baby boy is celebrated with lot of pomp and flair. Thankfully most Punjabi families have extended the concept to celebrating the first Lohri of their girl child with equal jubilation! 

Renuka Chauhan, from Texas, celebrating Lohri with her husband (Above).

(Above- Priyanka Arora celebrates Lohri with her family in Texas, USA. They have been celebrating Lohri here in America for the past 15 years, dressing up and dancing around the bonfire.)

Being from north India myself, I remember my mother making a special kind of kichari on the day. And during the three years that my family lived in Hyderabad, we came to know the special kichari called 'Pongal' that is made by south Indians on this day due to which the festival is called 'Pongal' in parts of south India, especially Tamil Nadu.  

(Photo Credit: Tejal B. Pandya, Rajkot, Gujarat, India) 

Most of us know the major kite flying gala that the festival is in Gujarat. Having lived in Gujarat for three years, I personally have witnessed the huge deal that kite flying is to the people of Gujarat. It starts days before the actual day and 14th is really the grand finale of the festival. Endless hours are spent on the terrace of the homes. While kids start right after school, parents more often than not join them. As families gather around on the terrace, they spread bed sheets and get busy eating peanuts, fresh 'lilva' (peas like vegetable in the shape of kala chana) and tons of different variety of 'chikkis' and 'gazaks' (called as peanut brittle here in America, except that in Gujarat you get hundred different variety). Kite flying is almost a competition there, some go as far as preparing their own "manja", the thread, to ensure it is sharp, to get the opponent's kites. Screams of katyo che (meaning we cut your kite) fills the air and you see kids running along the street chasing the stray kite.

 

Just as the festival is called by different names all across India, it is celebrated in various different ways too, symbolizing different religious sentiments across the country. We asked Kalyani Bhat, who has taught religious classes in the Dallas Fort Worth Hindu Temple for 8 years, why is Sankranti celebrated. According to her, Makar Sankranti is the day when the Sun begins its ascendancy and entry into the northern hemisphere, uttarayana, and so is considered very auspicious for attaining higher worlds hereafter. Sankranti also marks the day when 'Ganga', the river Ganges, came to earth from heaven. People take a dip in the holy river to 'wash-off' their sins. Also, people do charity work to get the blessings of their ancestors. 'Lohri' in Punjab marks the celebration of good harvest, while kite flying in the west symbolizes moving away from darkness, towards the light, the sun. 


 
Individual families follow their own unique customs too that are passed down from one generation to another. My mother, from Uttar Pradesh in India, follows the tradition of donating 'kichadi' along with 'til chikkis' and money to the local pandits. My mother-in-law believes in making 14 offerings to the God since this day, the 14th, is considered to be a very auspicious day. We follow that and with our kids, we have added our own custom as well- to donate some 14 items, could be anything from small toys to clothing. Hopefully they pass the tradition to their kids.
 
So have fun with the various different traditions that you and your family follow. Whatever they are, I'm sure they are intriguing and interesting for that's what every single festival of India compromises of.

Happy Makar Sankranti to you and your family.

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