There is something earthy and comforting about festivals that celebrate nature. The ‘back to roots' connect that these occasions invoke, a sort of thanksgiving to nature's bounty is essential to remind us that there is something bigger and mightier than us and the myopic lives that we lead - all the more for our children who dwell in their small worlds.
My kids are city-bred kids. We live in a metro in a multi-storey apartment complex and their exposure to nature and its ways are minimal - the garden with a couple of potted plants and trees in the common area make up their idea of ‘nature.' They have never seen a cow being milked and think ‘milk comes in packets'. They do not acknowledge the change in seasons except when it rains perhaps. They have never seen a paddy field and think a field is a playground. So how does one explain Pongal or Makar Sankranti - a harvest festival to these young city slickers I wonder?
Here's a quick ‘how to' guide to celebrate Makar Sankaranti with your kids:
1. Make and fly kites:
Makar Sankranti is celebrated in several states and by different names. In some parts of the country such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, kite flying competitions are big. One just has to tilt their head towards the sky to see the colourful kites bobbing about. If you can't find a kite selling vendor, DIY! Make your own kites from scratch and fly them on your terraces. Now, isn't that fun?
2. Cook Pongal and other delicacies:
In Tamil Nadu where I currently reside, Pongal festival is a grand affair. The word ‘Pongal' in Tamil means to overflow and signifies abundance and prosperity. Usually on the second day of Pongal, a new clay pot is taken and decorated with traditional designs. Milk is boiled in this vessel and when it begins to overflow, rice from the new harvest is added and everyone marks the occasion by blowing conches and reciting Pongal O Pongal! Try to maintain the authenticity by making Pongal in the traditional style in an open courtyard.
Also, sesame seeds-jaggery recipes are a recurring theme across India, mostly because it is an end of winter festival and heavy foods that the body needs to stay warm are used. People make different kinds of sweets ranging from Kichdis, chikkis and laddoos. What better way than traditional food to introduce to children rustic flavours?
No Indian festival is complete without some socialising, and Sankranthi has its own set of unique events for the ladies of the house. In Karnataka, young girls wear the traditional ‘Jari Langa' (long silk skirts)and visit houses for the ‘yellu be erode' ceremony - which is the exchange of plates containing items such as sugarcane, sugar candy moulds and ‘yellu'. Special mention to yellu which is concoction of sesame seeds (yellu), small jaggery cubes, roasted peanuts and small dry coconut pieces. People usually eat ‘yellu' and say - Yellu bella thindu olle maathadi which translates to eat this mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good.
4. Decorate Cows (and other animals):
As with most festivals that celebrate nature, it's not just about our green friends. Sankranti is the day when animals that work in the fields get their due too. The cattle are dressed up prettily with paint, flowers and bells. They are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane. In some states, not just the cattle but different kinds of animals and birds are fed by children, which is a wonderful way to teach some lessons about sharing and thinking of other creatures on this planet. Now all you have to do is find a cow!
5. Follow rituals:
Though I'm not a slave to rituals, I do believe that rituals serve a higher purpose. They help us understand our identity and give us a sense of continuity. So do not discard festival rituals because you find them old fashioned or meaningless or because you have no time. Your family may always have had an oil bath, bought new clothes, discarded old items, visited relatives, exchanged yellu, fed and decorated animals, made elaborate meals, sang and danced folk songs, visited temples and melas, bathed in holy rivers, watched cock and bull fights or flew kites. Despite your location and inconveniences of the day, try and do as much as you can. Remember do to not get overburdened by the task itself. Enjoy the time spent with family.
So let's mark the arrival of spring and a new harvest with gusto with our children.
Happy Makar Sankranti!
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