There’s a price that we pay for city living, losing out on our traditional festivals being one. I remember Poush Sankranti as an important occasion growing up. Mom and my grandmother would get up early, take bath and pay homage to the sun. We were pulled out of bed asked to bathe and wear fresh clothes before eating anything. The temptation of yummy khichuri, labra (mixed veggie) and bhaja would make us hurry.
Sankrati or Makar Sankranti is one of the few Hindu festivals that is observed according to the solar cycles, thus falling on the same date as per the English calendar every year (it’s usually on Jan 14th except in some years it shifts by a day to Jan 15th). It is said that the Sun enters the Capricorn (Makar) zodiac on that day, marking the end of the winter solstice as per the Hindu calendar. While most Hindu festivals are set by lunar cycle, Sankranti celebrates Sun and the solar cycle.
It could be because Sun or the right amount of sunlight is so important for a good harvest. Hailed as the harvest festival Sankranti is celebrated across India in different names – Magh Bihu in Assam; Maghi (preceded by Lohri) in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, popular amongst both the Hindus and Sikhs. It’s Sukarat in central India; Pongal in Tamil Nadu; Uttarayan in Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh; Ghughuti in Uttarakhand; Makara Sankranti in Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and West Bengal; or as Sankranthi in Andhra and Telangana. Irrespective of the many names feasting is an integral part of this festival, preparing a lavish meal with fresh yields from the field. We urban souls off course depend on the yield transported to our markets and mandis.
Makar Sankranti or Poush Sankranti is also called Pithe Porbon in Bengal as we prepare a range of Pithe (sweet savouries made out of rice flour, gur, coconut or khoya) on that day. However, in my family there would be no Pithe made on Sankranti as a little child once (generations back) accidentally choked on rice flour while his mother was making Pithe. Since then, the family decided not to make Pithe on Sankranti day. We would stick to khichuri and its accompaniments. My mother would make Pithe and payesh a day prior to Sankranti so we could have Pithe on that day, yet the tradition would not be broken.
Chitoi Pithe with jhola gur (liquid jaggery), pathishapta, dudh puli, malpoa and off course nolen gurer payesh (kheer made with rice and date jaggery) are made in most household. Sharing an image from my friend Swadhinata’a Instagram account who keeps the tradition alive even in Grenoble. “My childhood used to be closely associated with this day when my mother used to make varieties of pithe, and we all used to have fun eating them. To commemorate this festival, I made 3 varieties of pithe namely dudh puli pithe with narkel and nolen gurer pur (semolina/rice dumplings with coconut and jaggery filling), narkeler gujiya/bhaja puli (fried rice flour/wheat flour dumplings with coconut and sugar filling); and shukno sujir malpoa/poa pithe (fried semolina pancakes). It was awesome to see them come out so well and I got nostalgic,” says Swadhinata. (Swadhinata delights us with her culinary posts on her Instagram page bobbysaha).
Back home my sister Miki too made a range of pithes. The pictures that she shared on WhatsApp did make me very nostalgic. And thank God for Roy Meshomoshai and Mashima who live in my society I could savour the flavours of Poush Sankranti. I just hopped over to their place and had my fill of khichuri, labra, pathishapta and payesh. Their children who happen to be my very close friends were also there. Good food, great company and Old Monk was the flavour of Poush Sankranti this year.