Visiting home in January is always nice. Agartala is comfortably cold in January. One can enjoy the soft winter sun and the cool breeze during the day and feel the chill at night. And January is the time for harvest festival Makar Sankranti, known as Poush Sankranti in Bengal and Tripura. Also popular as Pithe Porbon, it’s the time of year when a range of pithe or sweet dishes are made out of rice flour, milk, khoa, coconut and jagari. In an agrarian society, these ingredients would usually be fresh yields from the field for January is the harvest time. It’s also the time for khejur gur or date palm jagari. And delicious earthy pithe would be made from fresh rice flour and gur.
In farming village communities, youth go for picnic or bon bhojon the night before Sankranti. As per tradition, they are supposed to hunt and cook duck for dinner and stay up through the night. Early morning they burn a small straw hut, burir ghar or old woman’s house. They take bath in the pond then, worship Sun God and have pithe for breakfast that their mothers having been making through the night – freshly made patishapta, doodh puli or chitoi pithe served with jhola gur (semi liquid jagari).
Lunch on Sankranti days is kichuri, labra (bong mixed veg) and different kinds of bhaja or fried vegetables like cauliflower, brinjal or aloo, whatever the fields may have produced. For Poush Sankranti is the festival of the agrarian village community that we city dwellers try to follow.
In a city like Agartala, that still retains its earthy flavours despite urbanization, pithe is made is most homes on the day on Sankranti. People of the household take bath early morning and worship Sun God. Rangoli with rice paste is drawn in small courtyards of city homes. Benevolence of the Sun is key to a good harvest. The farming community thanks Sun God for the bountiful produce and prays for his blessings for the rest of year.
Goddess Lakshmi is also worshiped on Poush Sankranti for farmers are dependent on their harvest for a prosperous year ahead. Unlike Lord Kuber, the God of wealth who’s depicted more as a hoarder or protector of wealth, Goddess Lakshmi symbolizes wealth that is happy and wholesome. It’s not about earning in millions to hoard; it’s about using whatever you earn to make your life better. The Golden Goddess showers her blessing on those for whom wealth symbolizes a happy healthy life.
Poush Sankranti was one of my favourite festivals growing up. In our family, pithe is not made on day of Sankranti. Dida and mom would always make pithe a few days before or after Sankranti. They would get up in the morning, take bath, worship Sun and draw rangolis in the courtyard though. Kichuri, labra and bhaja would be on menu for lunch. I love pithe and khichuri and I would always overeat on those days.
Moving to a big city I lost out on pastoral festivals like Poush Sankranti. Lohri celebrations remind me that the day after would be Poush Sankranti and I would long for homemade pathishapta and kichuri. This year, by chance, I happened to land in Agartala a day before Sankranti. Though we are not celebrating at home this year as it has barely been a year that I lost my father, I was treated to homemade pithe by my sister. Living in Agartala she celebrates Poush Sankranti every year.
Our cook started talking about her sons catching duck for picnic the night before. “I got up very early, made pithe for my sons before coming,” she said. Suddenly I felt closer home, the earthy flavour of Agartala, intoxicating and exhilarating, wrapping me in its embrace.