On January 14, 2021, Hindus in India will be celebrating the festival Makar Sankranti. It is an auspicious Hindu festival that marks an end of Winter season and the onset of the harvest season. On this day, the sun moves to the Capricorn zodiac sign or Makar thus marking a beginning of longer days as we have in Summers. It is dedicated to Sun God. The festival is widely celebrated across India, although with different names. In Maharashtra, it is known as Pedda Pandaga, Bengalis call it Poush Sankranti, Assamese name it Magh Bihu and Tamilians Thai Pongal.
How it is celebrated:
On this day, devotees wake up early and worship the sun. Some even go the nearest holy river, take a dip in it and chant mantras. Moreover, Makar Sankranti is widely known as ‘festival of kites’ as people enthusiastically involve in kite flying and even conduct kite-flying competitions. This festival is famous also for the different kind of cuisines that people consume in different parts of the country. In north India, ladoos made of sesame seeds and jaggery are essential for everyone to eat. Besides, eatables like dahi and chura, khichdi and tilkut are also famous in North India. In Assam, variants of rice cakes like til (sesame) pitha, narikol (coconut) pitha, tekeli pitha, ghila pitha and sunga pitha are consumed. Traditional dishes like Pongal, Shakkara Pongal, sugarcane also embody the essence of this festival.
It is important to note here that the celebration of Makar Sankranti differs with the states and cultures. For example, in Assam, the day is celebrated as Magh Bihu in which people make huts out of bamboo, leaves and thatch, burn bonfires and play games around it. While in South India, Pongal is celebrated for four days which are dedicated to Sun God and Lord Indra for blessing the farmers with good weather conditions enough to have a harvest time. In a special ritual held on the first day of Pongal (Bhogi), farmers burn old stuff in a bonfire and chant “Paraiyana kadiwalum, Pudiyana Pugudulam” that means, “Let the old things go away and Let the new things come in”.
History behind Makar Sankranti:
According to the Hindu Scriptures, on this day a deity named Sankranti killed the demon Sankrasur. Besides, in Hindu scriptures, the movement of the sun to Northern hemisphere from the South is called the period of Uttaryan, the time for which Lord Brahma had waited to embrace death.
The festival from a feminist lens
The festival of Makar Sankranti is a celebration of human beings’ oneness with nature. It is a special time for the farmers as it marks the harvest season. It is also significant for people in general as it reminds them of the importance of farm, nature and organic food. There is no gender-specific ritual that the festival signifies and hence reminds us that nature considers every human as a respectable being with equal rights.
However, one can ponder on the fact that even though we celebrate farming and farmers on this day, how many of them are women farmers? Although women farmers make up to 33 per cent of cultivators and 47 per cent of agricultural labourers, they face numerous problems in this sector because of many factors, the prominent one is their gender. 84 per cent of women depend on farming and agricultural labour as a means of livelihood but the percentage of women owning their own agricultural land is very less.
Consequently, rather than an individual farmer, women are mainly seen and employed as agricultural labourers on others’ farms which often leads to their exploitation in terms of low wage and sexual harassment also. The new farm bill has ignited a widespread agitation among farmers who are on the streets protesting against the bill. But how many of us know how the bill will affect the women farmers in India? Reportedly, women farmers are going to be the worst affected due to the farm bill. Here is why.
So this Makar Sankranti, it is important for us a nation to value woman farmers, increase their representation and help them gain the land rights that they deserve.
Also Read: Women farmers in India, where they stand