‘Ellu bella thindhu, olle maathaaadu,’ - The festival fervour starts nearly a month before Sankranti. Women and men begin with the preparation of the ellu mixture by scrapping dry coconut and finely chopping jaggery into tiny symetrical pieces. The preparation of ‘sugar candies’ which need to be soft but crisp is a very delicate and challenging process. This is the work of art that builds up the festive environment. This excitement marks the onset of the festival, ‘Sankranti’.
Makara’ means Capricon and ‘Sankranti' means transition. ‘Makara Sankranti’ signifies the transition or arrival of the sun into the Makara zodiac sign. The festival which occurs in mid January marks the end of winter and the onset of spring.
Sankranti is celebrated across India as a festival of harvest and people also worship Sun to offer their gratitude. The harvest is collected, decorated, offered prayers to, and taken to a storage facility. This pan-India festival is celebrated in unique and diverse ways -- the skies of Gujarat turn colourful with kites, the kitchens in the south spread the aroma of Pongal, and bonfires are lit in many other parts of the country. Some take a holy dip in Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri rivers, while others visit temples.
In Karnataka, Sankranti is also known as ‘Suggi Habba’. Kannadigas follow rituals such as ‘Ellu Birodhu’ and ‘Kichchu Haayisuvudu’.
‘Ellu Birodhu’ is a practice in which young girls dress up in traditional attire to offer and exchange the plates of ‘Sankranti’. The plate contains ‘Ellu Bella’, a mixture of ‘ellu’ (white sesame seeds), finely chopped ‘bella’ (jaggery), dry coconut, roasted and fried groundnuts, and roasted grams. The oil content in the sesame seeds, ground- nut, and coconut in the Ellu Bella is believed to cure chapped and dry skin. To balance the excessive amount of oil, Bella (Jaggery) and roasted grams are added to the mixture. One can also find ‘sugar dolls’ known as ‘Sakkare Acchu’, along with sugarcanes and fruits in this plate.
“Our daughters take the blessings of God and the elders of the house, after which they are given Ellu Bella. This is the first item they have on Sankranti. While they receive the Ellu Bella, they are told ‘ellu bella thindhu, olle maathaaadu,’ (eat the mixture and speak only good). This is to invoke positivity and instill forgiveness in them. On the day of ‘Sankranti’, I make sweet and savoury ‘Pongal’, which is offered to the god during pooja,” said Shobha Ravikumar, a resident of Bengaluru.
People across the state worship cattle and oxen in a show of gratitude.
In the rural parts of Karnataka, the ritual ‘Kichchu Haayisuvudu’ is followed, where cattle and oxen are decorated with bells and vibrant colours while their sheds are cleaned. The animals are then made to jump over a bonfire. This ritual signifies the removal of ‘drishti’ or to ward off any evil that may have been cast on them. “Many families pour Yellu Bella, sugarcane and yelchi (Indian jujube) fruit on their children to ward off any evil. Families also pray for the well being of the children.” said N. Shanta, another Bengalurean.
‘Sankranthi’ is celebrated in different ways across the country. But, the intent and message of the festival is the same all over this beautiful and diverse country.