Our correspondent from Mysore reports on the recent harvest festival that is celebrated in South India. This festival is known under different names in separate parts of the country. In Karnataka is celebrated as Makara Sankranti, meaning ‘Farmers Festival’. This day ends the traditional farming season and farmers take a break from their routine. The Farmer will start his day by washing his cattle and resting from ploughing the field. The path to the house is decorated with painted floral art called rangoli to welcome the deity. Later in the morning all the family members gather to perform pooja (prayers) to the mother earth.
Sankranti marks the transition of the Sun into Makara Rashi i.e. Capricorn Zodiac, hence the name Makara. This movement of the sun is known as Uttarayana (northern moment of the sun). The movement of the earth from one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti and as the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac known as Makar in Hindi, this occasion is named as Makar Sankranti in the Indian context. This transition is considered as auspicious. It marks the end of an inauspicious phase that according to the Hindu calendar begins around mid-December and ends on 14th January each year. Sankrati marks the end of winter and the beginning of the new harvest season. The importance of this day has been signified in the ancient epics like Mahabharata also.
As with all festivals special food is being prepared, such as pongal. Pongal is cooked in earthenware pots from the grains and lentils grown on the farms. The pongal is cooked until it becomes soft and expands in size, spilling over the sides of the pot, indicating that the food has been offered to the deity. Also ‘Yellu Bella’ is offered. This is a mixture of sesame, jaggery, groundnuts and dry coconut pieces. The sweet is offered to everyone for good luck.
Young children under the age of five are also blessed by being given a special fruit called yalchi hannu (Indian jujube fruit) a kind of red berry. It is known to have a positive effect on the child’s health.
Back home at Ms Sandhya’s place the festival was celebrated with great zeal. Madam spoke of the importance and the reason behind celebrating this festival to all her guests. The day before she celebrated Bogi Habba which is celebrated on the first day of the four day Sankranti festival. On Sankranti day madam started her day by performing a special pooja in her temple at home. Sweet pongal, yellu bella, sakkare achhu (sugar moulds), sugar cane and yalachi hannu was offered to the deity.
For lunch she served pongal and sweet pongal. This happens to be the special dish for this festival. This special recipe is found in our cookbook Mysore Style Cooking. Every guest was treated with “Yellu Bella” as a sign of good wishes and good luck. By evening madam took her guests Criz, Saly, Leo and a few others to the nearest place where villagers celebrate Sankranti in a rustic style. They got to see cows colored yellow all over and were made to cross the fire. It seemed to be a most memorable Sankranti to our guests.
Sandhya and I exchanged ‘Yellu Bella’ with wishes of good luck.
The following week madam’s kitchen was overflowing with greens like avare kai (field beans) and soppina kadale (green tender chick pea), akki rotti (rice roti sprinkled with sesame seeds). With a special request from a Jewish couple madam prepared Dosa for breakfast. Criz and Saly relished semiya payasa.
For more images of the Festival please follow go to the photo section of the blog.
Our “correspondent” in Mysore Ms. Renuka reports on the latest news from Ms. V. Sandhya’s.
I visited Ms Sandhya after not having seen her for about a month. She was excited to see me as was I to see her. We spent a lot of time discussing how she spent her time with her new guests in her home.
January 2nd was Madam Sandhya's Birthday. She
quietly celebrated by visiting her temple and did not let anyone know.
Right now, her house is full of new guests. Madam Sandhya and Jammay, her helper, are busy creating delicious food all day long. A Korean lady named Yoni, who is Ajay's student, visits Ms Sandhya's and is learning cooking right from selecting vegetables, cleaning up fresh greens, chopping and getting cooking tips from madam. She is excited every morning to find out more about South Indian cooking. Sandhya’s cookbook is in great demand.
This is a season for a local bean called "Avarekai" also called flat beans/ field beans. They are grown on farms. This plant is a creeper. From December and January the beans are widely available and ladies take time to peel and remove the seed and create a variety of dishes. Ms uses this bean in many different dishes such as Palyas, Sambars and rice dishes. The guests find this quite exciting as Sandhya creates new dishes with this bean each day. We can also relate the bean to the bean which we find in the fairy tale 'Jack and the bean stalk'. And just as in the fairy tale all of the vegetable prices have touched the sky as inflation is high in India.
Still ‘Tomato Gujju’ is everybody’s favorite dish.
One special guest named Kriz from Poland is fascinated with Ms Sandhya and her cooking. He happens to be a student of cinema and journalism. He asks questions all the time and says he will publish an article about Ms Sandhya and the experiences he had in India in Poland. He is planning to make a presentation about Ms Sandhya, hence has taken lots of photos.By his request Ms Sandhya is preparing herbal teas and sweet dishes like Payasam, Kesaribath, Banana Rasayana. Kriz is really enjoying his time at Sandhya's.
This is it for this week. I shall visit Ms. Sandhya tomorrow, as it is a special day 'Makara Sankranti'. It is the South Indian harvest festival and I will write about how it is celebrated and how Ms. Sandhya celebrates with her guest.