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The Sun Moves North...

...And we are awash in harvest festivals!

This is the week of Poush Sankranti, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Bihu, Lohri and many more celebrations in India. Then there is the rice festival in Bali, the mid-autumn festival in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong and Thanksgiving in the US in the fall. Altogether there are many harvest festivals throughout the year, coinciding with the various crop cycles.

My dear friend "A" sent me this map yesterday as she wished me Happy Lohri. Despite the differences in India, we are most certainly unified by our festivals!

In my home state of Bengal, Poush Sankranti celebrates the end of the month of poush and the movement of the sun from one constellation to another (i.e., sankranti). Our mothers used to celebrate by making delicious crepes, called pithe, filled with milk solids, coconut, jaggery, and sweet potato. Neither Tarun nor I know how to do this but next year I am committed to resurrecting our family tradition, for Mina's sake. Some call this Makar Sankranti to herald the sun entering makar or Capricorn.

Many of our friends celebrate Lohri which marks the end of winter solstice and the passing of the sun from the southern to the northern hemisphere. Lohri signals longer days and the beginning of the next harvest cycle. In the contemporary context, farming isn't on top of metropolitan minds and Lohri has become a celebration of new happenings, an occasion to honor a recently married couple, a new home, or a newborn. This makes the first Lohri a significant rite of passage.

A’s favorite memories of Lohri include huddling around a bonfire with her family in the chill of the Delhi winter, shelling and popping peanuts, munching on fistfuls of popcorn, and singing traditional songs. This was followed by a dinner celebrating the myriad firsts in the family. A bonfire in the US in mid-January is a tad tricky, but she still follows the dinner tradition to celebrate new beginnings. She also takes the time to celebrate the firsts in our family!

Our South Indian friends celebrate Pongal. Among other names, this is also called Surya (sun) Pongal and Tai (or Thai) Pongal to designate the object of prayers and the month when this happens. Like Lohri, Pongal marks the end of the winter months and the beginning of six months of warmth and longer days. The word pongal means to boil over, which comes from milk and jaggery boiling over in the process of making special desserts for this time of the year.

Indians and food, we are quite the inseparable pair!

My favorite harvest festival story is the one in which Lord Shiva sends his bull, Besava, to earth to tell people to eat once a month and bathe every day. The bull makes a mistake and tells people to eat every day and bathe once a month. An enraged Shiva banishes his bull to earth to help people produce enough food to align with the mistaken decree. In some parts, farmers celebrate the bull to show gratitude for bountiful harvests.

Thank you, Besava, for your flub!

Wherever you are, whatever your faith, there is every reason to celebrate the end of short, cold days and the beginning of long, warm ones. Celebrate with whatever brings you culinary delight. Pray for the farmers all over the world who put food on our tables and don't forget to mark the firsts.

Happy Poush Sankranti, Makar Sankranti, Lohri, Bihu, Pongal, or your very special regional version! Cheers!



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