Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
Makara Sankranti is generally celebrated every year on January 14, with a few exceptions on January 15. It is interesting to note that although the Hindu religious festivals are celebrated on the basis of lunar and solar calendar, and therefore the change of date every year, Makara Sankranti has a fixed date.
The Sankranti of any month is considered auspicious as it signifies a fresh start. However, Makara Sankranti is celebrated in the month of Poush when the sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricon.
Makara literally means ‘Capricorn’ and Sankranti is the day when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. Makara Sankranti is also celebrated to honour, worship and pay respect to the mother, Laxmi Maa (Goddess of wealth). It continues through the month of Magha.
In the morning a puja is performed to bless the house and the family. God is offered a naivedya of rice, channa dal, jaggery and coconut. Five leaf plates (donnes) are shown for the naivedya, out of which one is for the family, two for the crows (departed souls), one for the deity and the fifth is taken to the corners. A lamp is lit in the middle of the (donno) containing the naivedya. The light of the lamp is to welcome the goddess Laxmi. After presenting this naivedya to the deity, the same is taken around and shown at all the corners of the house. This is done to remove any evil, which makes the corners as their spot.
Legend says that Avdissa, Laxmi’s wicked sister comes from the back door and in the dark, and the corners are her favourite spots. The donnes of the deity and the one taken to the corner are thrown in the rivulet.
In the first year after marriage, when the Makara Sankranti is celebrated by the new bride, Sukadd puja is performed by a purohit, (bhatt). The parents of the girl send as gifts items needed for performing the puja, which includes betel leaf and nut (pan and supari), pinjar (container for kukum), turmeric (haldi), coconut, 5 gold beads (munnio), black plastic tiny beads (pidduko) used to make mangalsutra, til gul (sweets), grams, nine-yard sari, and flowers. Puja is held on January 14.
The gold pearls, one each is given to the deity at her home and one at her mother’s house. The other three are given one each to very close relatives. The items to be distributed by the new bride to the other ladies in the first year are budkule (small clay container) and half of the coconut. On the outside the budkullo is tied with five types of thread to which five piddukio (one each) are added. In the budkulle five types of cereals are put: wheat, green dal (mung), paddy, sesame (til), and ragii (nasnem). The cereals are selected to show fertility as these can be grown after sprouting them. The following year the bride gives kumkum containers. For the subsequent years: bangles, mirror and comb. These are considered as necessary items required by a married woman (sovachin) to take care of her personal grooming. Thereafter any item can be distributed. However, many avoid things that symbolise destruction like salt, flour, matchboxes, which is related to fire, etc.
This festival is also an opportunity for the ladies to interact with one another. Earlier most of the women were housewives and would not go out of the house. Haldi-kukum celebrations gave them an opportunity to go out of the house and visit and receive other women and have some sort of socialising and entertainment. It is a tradition to give a gift to other married ladies (vainn). Along with the gift the lady is also given betel nut and leaf, grams, til gul, til laddu and a coin. Traditionally the vainn was not given after Omas (new moon) because it is not an auspicious time. Those who had not performed the rituals of haldi-kukum before Omas celebrated it on Rathsaptami festival.
Since the festival is celebrated in midwinter, food prepared for this festival is such that it keeps the body warm and gives high energy. Laddus of til and jaggery is a specialty of the festival, til gul distributed on this occasion is made of sugar coated gram. The sugar coating was made colourful with different colours added to the sugar. Red, green, and yellow. However, of late the ladies to save time and trouble, buy readymade til gul which are made only with sugar and no grams are added.
Makara Sankranti ends on Rathsaptami. On this occasion the Rath (vehicle) of the deity is taken out from the temple and around on a fixed route. After the procession, married ladies gift the deity coconuts (either two or five), rice, flowers and a piece of cloth (khan). Some well to do ladies may also give nine-yard sari (kapad). This is called in Konkani ‘voti’. The lady tells the pujari (bhat) that she wants to fill the voti of the deity.
After the festivity is over the deity is placed back in the respective altar in the temple. The temple authorities auction the gifted items and the money earned is deposited in the temple’s treasury.