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A holy festival of the Hindus, Makar Sakranti is dedicated to the Sun God. It is celebrated in different parts of India in diverse ways, with each state displaying its unique culture, beliefs and traditions. As you travel through India seeing various shades of the festival unfold in different parts, here are some of the must-visit spots.
The national capital, Delhi celebrates Makar Sakranti with much pomp and show. Traditionally, brothers gift their married sisters with warm clothes, and this ritual is called 'sidha'. Meanwhile, married women give presents to their in-laws as per the ritual of 'manana'. A great feast is organised during the festival and preparations such as kheer (rice pudding), halwa (a dense sweet confection) and churma of ghee (coarsely ground wheat that is cooked with clarified butter and sugar), are served.
In Gujarat, Makar Sakranti is celebrated as Uttarayan and lasts for two days. Uttarayan is the greatest kite festival in the world that draws people from across the globe. Many come to watch the awesome wonder of a thousand kites, in all shapes and sizes, take flight and dot the sky with brilliant shades of colour. Meanwhile, others come to take part in the exciting kite-flying competition where they get to test their skills against the best of the best.
The anticipations and the preparations start at the crack of the dawn and the spirit of celebration and cheerful competitiveness lasts until dark.
Uttarayan, like all festivals, is an opportunity for family and friends to get together and participate in kite-flying. Delicious dishes are prepared in homes, the most popular being ladoos (round sweets) and surati jamun undhyu (a Gujarati mixed vegetable dish).
A particular highlight of the festival is a sound and light show on kites that makes for an enriching experience. Several training workshops are held across the cities that give you an opportunity to interact with kite-makers and buy beautiful varieties. The city of Ahmedabad is a hotspot of the celebrations.
Makar Sakranti is a prominent festival of the state and is marked by certain rituals that are performed by married women. On this day, women gift household items like utensils to 13 other married women. Traditionally, the first Makar Sakranti of a newly-wed woman is considered very auspicious and she is invited by her parents for a lavish feast called 'Sankrant Bhoj'. The meal consists of delicacies like til ladoo (sesame sweets), gajak (a confection made of sesame and jaggery), pheeni (sweet vermicelli), ghevar (a dessert prepared with condensed milk), pakodi (fritters), etc.
Another popular custom is that of kite flying, where hundreds compete to rule the skies with their colourful kites.
Any festival in Maharashtra is incomplete without its feasts, and Makar Sakranti is no different. Celebrated with much uproar, it sees the preparation of an array of delicacies, such as gulachi poli or puran poli (a flatbread stuffed with jaggery and toasted sesame seeds), halwa (a sweet and dense confection), til ladoo (sweets prepared with sesame seeds and jaggery). The sweetness of most of the dishes curated during the festival is symbolic of a feeling of brotherhood and friendship among all.
The state of Uttarakhand celebrates Makar Sakranti with great gusto. This day marks the change of season when migratory birds begin to return to the hills. On the day of the festival, people take ceremonial dips in rivers, give khichdi (a concoction of rice and lentils) to the needy and visit fairs.
Special sweets are prepared for the festival, including sweetmeats deep-fried in ghee (clarified butter). These are cooked in various shapes and strung as a garland around the neck. Children wear these garlands and offer portions from them to birds, who are returning after winter.
The Assamese counterpart of Makar Sakranti is Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu, which is a harvest festival that sees a week-long feast. This fiesta is enjoyed in makeshift huts called meji, which are made from bamboo and thatch. The huts are burned the next morning. Several traditional games are played during the festival, including tekeli bhonga or pot-breaking. Rice dishes and coconut sweets are special delicacies that are prepared for the festival.
In Himachal Pradesh, Makar Sakranti is called Magha Saaji, which marks the beginning of a new month. During this time, the migratory birds start returning to the hills. On the day of the festival, people wake up in the wee hours of the morning and take ceremonial dips in the water. Later in the day, they get together with friends and family and exchange helpings of khichdi (a concoction of rice and lentils), ghee (clarified butter) and chaas (buttermilk). There's much singing and dancing.
In Punjab, this festival is celebrated as Maghi. In the wee hours of the morning, people take a dip in the river and in the evening, they light lamps with sesame oil. This is done with the belief that the lamp will bring prosperity and ward off evil. During the celebrations, people perform 'bhangra', a traditional dance, and feast on sumptuous food.
In Karnataka, Makar Sakranti is celebrated as a harvest festival called 'suggi', by farmers. People dress up in brand new clothes and visit family and friends. They exchange 'ellu' or white sesame seeds mixed with dry coconut, fried nuts and 'bella' or jaggery, according to the ritual of 'Ellu Birodhu'. As per another ritual, married women give bananas for at least five years to other married women. Some also give red berries along with bananas. Kite flying and making rangolis (coloured patterns on the floor) are also a part of the celebration.
In Uttar Pradesh, the festival of Makar Sakranti is synonymous with taking a ceremonial dip in the sacred waters of Prayagraj, Haridwar or Varanasi. People generally fast during this ritual bathing. Afterwards, they break their fast with delicacies such as til ladoo (sweets made with sesame seeds and jaggery). Kite flying is a major event in the state.
On Makar Sakranti, people take a dip in the river and prepare delicacies to mark a good harvest. These include sweets made with sesame seeds and jaggery. Kite-flying competitions are held across the state. Makar Sakranti usually kicks off with people worshipping and throwing sesame seeds in the fire. After this, they feast on dahi-chuda or yoghurt mixed with beaten rice. In the evening, khichdi, a preparation of rice and lentils, is cooked with roasted vegetables, ghee (clarified butter), pickles and papad (a thin, crisp, round flatbread).
Since the waning winters signify a change in food habits, Makar Sakranti is celebrated with an array of dishes like chhena (cheese curd) pudding, khai/lia (fried paddy), rasagolla (syrupy dessert), etc. People worship the Sun God at the famous Konark Temple, in Puri.
Locally known as Poush Sankranti, it is celebrated to mark the harvest season. People prepare traditional delicacies on this day with the first harvest of the season. They also worship Goddess Lakshmi on this day. Meanwhile, in the areas around Darjeeling, Lord Shiva is worshipped.