21 - 08 - 2019

Makar Sankranti Musing

It’s always blessing to have grandparents living with us during childhood. They said“Taking a bath in the river is considered a holy bath” because Ganga flows to Brahmaputra on that day of Makar Sankranti.

And we jumped into the river on the first day of the month of Magha. It marks the first day of sun's transit into the (Capricorn). The soul of India truly lives in its villages.  As per the Census of 2011, nearly 70% of the country’s population still resides in rural areas. This large populace are either farmers or indirectly engaged in agricultural marketing. Beside there is rural urban linkages. Soon after harvesting, farmers celebrate the festival of harvest.  India celebrated its own Harvest festival at various times throughout the year. Major Harvest festivals in India is Makar Sankranti or Maghi which is also known as Pongal in Tamilnadu,Kite Festival (Uttarayana) in Gujarat, Lohri in Punjab,Poush Parbon in Bengal, Pedda Pandaga in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana, Sukarat in Central India and Bhogali (Magh) Bihu in Assam. Makar Sankranti is the most auspicious day for Hindus and people take a dip in Holy River. Kumbh Mela is the biggest attraction during this festival. Prayag, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain are recognised as the four Kumbh Melas . Ardha ("Half") Kumbh Mela held every sixth year and Maha ("Great") Kumbh Mela held after 12 years.  This year, Prayagraj is organising the the Ardha Kumbha Mela in the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and mystical Saraswati flashed in the minds of people at Triveni Sangam. To facilitate better crowd management for the lakhs of devotees, the organiser installs modern technologies like Artificial Intelligence to control the movement of the pilgrims. The significance of the festival is sun worship, which is the world’s largest mass pilgrimage of Hindus.  Makar Sankranti is observed according to solar cycles, while most Hindu festivals are set by the lunar cycle of the Lunisolar calendar thereby it almost always falls on the same Gregorian date every year (January 14), except in some years when the date shifts by a day for that year.

Among other festivals, Bhogali Bihu is different beyond doubt. Bihu is the soul of Assamese culture and its songs are true reflection of love, passion and zeal of rural agricultural life. Globalisation has a big role in transformation to its culture. Industrialisation has not yet started in NE India due to geographical proximity. Modernity is bound to happen since people intermingle with the urban life through their work. Western tradition brought to bear cultural renaissance on India. Makar Sankranti is no exception. Day by day it grew worse. It has now been challenging to the lifeline of Assamese.

Communities build Bhela ghar (temporary night shelter) in the open space with dried paddy field for community feast for Uruka (previous Bihu day of great feast) night. Meji (bonfire), on the other hand is mostly made from straw, hay and bamboo with dried banana leaves, heaped on the fields. Nowadays woods are even used. There are even competitions for Best Bhela Ghar/Meji organised by electronic media. Those were dream Mejis at our childhood, set amid magnificent rolling villages. Meji is a representation of the funeral pyre of the godfather Bhishma from the Mahabharata time. After taking bathe in Brahmaputra in the early morning, people crowd around the Meji. They pay obeisance to the flamed Meji and seek blessings by offering pitha, lentil, sesame and laddu to the holy fire. Paying obeisance to senior is an important part of Bihu.

We were avid foodies in younger days. We spent the week grapping Bihu cuisine teel pitha, narikal pitha, sunga pitha (bamboo cake), laddu, curd, cheera at our neighbours. Local fish like Chitol, Rohu, Bahu, Barali and Ari are glee at dinner. After all, the young are squealed with delight during festival days. Even today, the city looked deserted during Bihu. Urban Assamese go villages to eat those days. It’s such an atypical looks. Because a sumptuous buffet like unlimited food is no match to Bhogali feast. Traditional buffalo fight is another centre of attraction during Bihu. Defying the Supreme Court ban, buffalo fight called Moh Juj is organised in different parts of Assam on the first day of Magh. The cock fight, bulbul bird fight at Assam’s ancient temple Hajo is also prohibited by Guwahati High Court. People pay a visit to their distant relatives. It is customary to mark an occasion like this with a social call. That kept the sense of family togetherness strong and excluded neighbours too.

 Today they are not very attractive to new generation. People avoid socializing with neighbours. They struggled to strive after joy.  Even teenagers prefer junk food to traditional delicacy. No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing. But urban ladies are lagging techniques of making teel pitha since packet pithas are readily available in the Bhogali Mela which is being organised every nook and corner of cities. Dheki (agricultural tool used for threshing) is no longer an indispensable part of the bhogali bihu. I remember the sound of the pestle of rice-cleaning pedal as bhogali falls towards our village. Bonfire are lit everywhere in the morning sun and that gives a special occasion to socialize with the people of the localities. Is makar sankranti musings interrupted by the sound of westernisation? Our festivals are agrarian based. Without it, there is something amiss. What we don’t do is introspect much about the changes. The usurping of westernization might decay our traditions in years to come. Teenagers are to be adapted by cultural ethos and moral values of our cherished past. Those festivals were the most memorable experience of ours when we forgot any fear or stress but found total happiness. 


Kamal Baruah