Sky Lanterns for Makar Sankranti in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. (Image by Bhavishya Goel)

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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

The word Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti means transition. In the Hindu month of Magh, once a year the Sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Shani) and moves northward. This movement is called Uttarayana and the belief is that the doors of Heaven are now open. This astronomical event in which the Surya (Sun) and Shani meet, forgetting their differences, happens on a day that usually falls on 14 January (or 15 January in Leap Years) of the Gregorian calendar. 

Many prayers, celebrations, and festivals are organized all over India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Hindus bathe in the morning, if possible in holy lakes and rivers, and they offer prayers to the Sun God. Later they joyously worship Vishnu, the protector, and his consort Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. This is an ancient tradition also mentioned in the epic Mahabharata. On this day, every twelve years, Kumbha Mela — the world’s largest mass pilgrimage (60 to 100 million)– occurs on the banks of the Ganga river. In 2021, even the pandemic could not curb religious enthusiasm and the deep desire for Nirvana. Unfortunately, this created a massive wave of the Delta variant of COVID to spread through India like wildfire. 

I remember every year my parents celebrated Sankranti or Lohri as it is called in North India with great alacrity. We made colorful decorations at home and lit bonfires in our backyard. At dusk, one adult would supervise a group of children as they went from home to home asking for treats — our very own version of Halloween. The treats were revri, gajak (simple nuggets made of jaggery raw cane sugar and sesame), roasted peanuts (for protein to balance the sugar high), and popped corn. There was a lot of singing, laughing, and performing little skits for family members.

Til-gud Laddoo

My father’s favorite treat was a sesame fudge called bhugga. This is a seasonal treat made with fresh milk solids, roasted sesame, almonds, raisins, and cashews. I could feel a sense of deep satisfaction spread through his being after taking one bite of his bhugga. My mother made Rajasthani til chatti — a thin transparent fudge with Kevra essence. Festivities continued for days with fairs, kite flying, dances and poetry sessions. In South India, devotees make special khichdi or pongal with rice, lentils, jaggery and sesame seeds to usher in a prosperous new year.

This year Lohri has come again. I feel a lilt in my heart, even though the Omicron variant is surging. My sister lit a lamp at her altar in India, I lit a candle on mine in America. She made saffron-butter Kheer. I bought kalakand and til-gud ladoos from the grocery store. I will offer my prayers to the Sun to remove the obstacle of COVID from our lives. Pray to Lord Vishnu to keep his benevolence on my dear departed parents. Heed their advice and forgive and forget all past hurts and share only sweetness with family and friends.

Somewhere, far away in the glow of several bonfires, I hear dad’s voice singing the folk song that exemplifies unity among Hindus and Muslims to the beat of a dhol: Sundar Mundariye…Ho…Tera kaun Vichara, Dulla bhatti walla, Dulle di dhee viyahi, Ser shar payi…”

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Featured Image under Creative Commons License.

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Monita Soni

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two...