Fading traditions of the harvest festival
The country’s diversity can perhaps be summed up by the festivals that its people celebrate. In this regard, an outstanding testimony to its diversity is the celebration of one festival known differently in different parts of the country, but with the same underlying motif: the festival of harvest, a celebration of the crop grown. While for the Telugu speaking community the festival is known as Sankranti, in Tamil Nadu it is known as Pongal, Bengal celebrates Poush Sankranti,
The country’s diversity can perhaps be summed up by the festivals that its people celebrate. In this regard, an outstanding testimony to its diversity is the celebration of one festival known differently in different parts of the country, but with the same underlying motif: the festival of harvest, a celebration of the crop grown. While for the Telugu speaking community the festival is known as Sankranti, in Tamil Nadu it is known as Pongal, Bengal celebrates Poush Sankranti, in Odisha as, in Punjab as Lohri and in Assam as Magh Bihu. Uttarayan, which is also celebrated as Makar Sakranti in north India, is the day when the sun starts to travel northwards marking the decline of winter.
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the harvest festival is a celebration spanning four days. The first, known as Bhogi, sees people discarding old clothes and things and lighting of a bonfire, which is symbolic of leaving behind old habits, vices, etc and starting anew. Day-two is when the main festival is celebrated. In front of every house is a floral pattern adorned with small mounds of dung, sliced sugarcane, fresh grass and regi fruits. Gangireddus go around the city, drawing glances from keen onlookers. Families prepare murukulu, chakinalu, nuvvula appalu, garelu, madugulu (jantikalu), kudumulu, ariselu (a sweet made of jaggery and rice flour), etc. Kites are ubiquitous during the festive season. The third and fourth days are Kanuma and Mukkanuma.
Despite these, it is safe to say that a few traditions have slipped away with the passage of time. “During my childhood, there were Haridasus who would roam the streets singing devotional songs. We would give them some rice or money or some sweets, depending on what was available in excess. In the city you don’t get to see them. Maybe they still do so in the towns and villages. Even the gangireddus aren’t a very common sight these days,” said Madhu, a homemaker.
Pongal, in days of yore, would see people cleaning their front yards, offering prayers and then enjoying the festival delicacies from straight off the floor. Even the most untraditional Tamilian would know all about mann soru, but would have never seen it in recent times.
“During Pongal, the traditional feast would witness people eating food from off the ground and it was considered healthy. People don’t do it anymore because it looks unhealthy. However banana leaves are still used as platters on such occasions,” said Prapanch, an Air Force officer. The Assamese call their harvest festival Magh Bihu. Feasts and bonfires mark the occasion and rice-based delicacies are the festival specials.
“On the night before the festival, we (Assamese) make makeshift huts. We consume rice-based delicacies like til pitha and other dishes that night. The next morning, we offer prayers and then burn the hut. This was a common practice in the past. These days, and especially when you are living in a city, there is no chance to indulge in such practices due to lack of space,” said Uzzal, a city-based PR.
“That aside, the other traditions we follow surely set the mood for the festival day,” he added. The harvest festival, whatever it may be called in whichever region, despite its fading traditions, is surely one that emphasises the country’s unity in diversity.