Monday, January 15, 2007


1. India Celebrates Harvest Festival

DELHI, INDIA, January 14, 2007: As Suryanarayan (the Sun God) is set to sail into Uttaryana (movement of the Sun towards north on the celestial sphere) and winter is on its climax, people across India have been geared up to celebrate the occasion in myriad cultural forms, with great devotion, fervor & gaiety writes Ashok K. Sah. Uttaryana is the six-month period between Makar Sankranti around (14th January) and Karka Sankranti around (14th July) while the period from 14th July to 14th January is known as Dakshinyana. Following is a description of the regional festivals celebrated in India on this day.

LOHRI: Festival to worship fire, Lohri, celebrations of traditional songs, dances, new dress, family get-togethers and lavish dinners with sarson ka saag and makki ki roti, is celebrated every year on 13th of January. Lohri is celebrated in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, parts of Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi. This day is considered as the coldest day of the year and is marked by lighting bonfires. It marks the end of the long and arduous winter. Traditional folk dances of Gidda and Bhangra form an integral part of Lohri celebrations. Families get together to celebrate the first Lohri of newly-wed couple and new-born babies. People throw a handful of 'revri' and popcorns in the holy fire and sing traditional Lohri songs.

MAKAR SANKRANTI: The starting of Uttarayana is celebrated as Makara Sankranti throughout India as it is one of the most auspicious days for the Hindus. Hundreds of thousands of people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar and Prayag (Allahabad) and pray to Sun God. Makara Sankranti (a sanskrit word) is the harvest festival of India. Sankranti means transmigration of Sun from one Rashi (something akin to the zodiac) to the other. Hence there are 12 such Sankrantis in all. But the transition of Sun from Dhanu Rasi to Makara Rasi marks the starting of Uttarayana which means northern movement of Sun. Since Uttarayana is considered as auspicious time, Makara Sankranti is celebrated as the beginning of that period. It is celebrated with pomp in southern parts of the country as Pongal, in Punjab as Lohri and Maghi, and in West Bengal and Assam - Bhogali Bihu.

PONGAL: Pongal is celebrated by all people in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, to give thanks for the winter harvest. Pongal in Tamil means "boiling over. " It is traditionally celebrated at the time of harvest of crops and hence is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the event. The festival is celebrated for four days from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi (December/January) to the third day of Thai (January/February). Pongal day is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel -- this is the tradition that gives the festival of Pongal its name. The moment the rice boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, it is offered to the chief Hindu solar deity Surya, a gesture which symbolises thanksgiving to the sun for providing prosperity. People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each others' homes, and exchange greetings.

BHOGALI BIHU: In Assam, people celebrate this day as Bhogali Bihu. Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu (derived from the word 'Bhoga' meaning eating or enjoyment) is celebrated when the harvesting is over. It is a harve st festival. On the eve of Bihu day, called "Uruka," women prepare rice cakes and other refreshments. The most significant part of this day is the building of 'Meji' and feasting at night. The whole night is spent in feasting, merry-making dancing and singing.

Beside the above forms of celebrations, people specially in Gujarat not only look reverentially up to the sun, but also offer thousands of their colorful oblations in the form of beautiful kites all over the skyline.
2. Four Million Take Chilly Bath at Ardh Kumbha Mela

ALLAHABAD, INDIA, JANUARY 14, 2007: Braving biting cold, more than four million devotees took a holy dip in the sacred waters of Sangam, the confluence of holy river Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati on the occasion of Makar Sankranti in Ardh Kumbh. Makar Sankranti, the day when the sun enters into Capricorn, is an auspicious festival for Hindus who take holy dip in the river Ganga. The festival will be celebrated for two days. About 3.5 million more pilgrims are expected to take bath till Monday. Makar Sankranti would also be marked as the first of the four Shahi Snans (Royal Bath) during the month-long Ardh Kumbh mela -- Mauni Amvaasya (Jan 19), Basant Panchami (Jan 23) and Mahasivratri (Feb 15). The devotees started coming to the mela area since early morning and the bathing will continue untill evening. As many as 32 bathing ghats have been set up by the Mela administration for pilgrims drawn from every nook and corner of India. Elaborate security arrangements had been made in and around Mela area in view of the apprehension of a terrorist strike during the Mela. Over 90 million pilgrims are expected to visit Mela which commenced on 3 January 3 to be concluded on February 16, Mahashivratri day. The bathing was conducted smoothly and no untowards incident was reported from anywhere in the Mela area, the Mela Officer Pragyan Ram Mishra and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Rajiv Sabharwal said.


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