On Tuesday (14th of January) I saw something absolutely extraordinary! I was awoken by laughter and shouting, I pulled back the curtains to see what was going on. The skies were full of tiny kites. I have never seen anything like it. Absolutely thousands of them dancing in the wind. Families and friends were gathered on every rooftop for miles around, all flying kites. This beautiful sight welcomed me to my first Makar Sankranti.
Makar Sankranti is the Hindu harvest festival and is celebrated on the day the sun enters the astrological sign of Capricorn. Makar means Capricorn while Sankranti indicates movement- which makes sense. The days are now going to start becoming longer and warmer!
The festival is celebrated slightly differently in different Indian states. The festival is known as Pongal in South India where sweet rice milk is served, and in Gujarat the elders give the younger family members gifts. Meanwhile in the state of Punjab fires are lit the night before and the day of the festival, known as Maghi, is full of feasts and traditional dancing. Wherever you are in India, the harvest festival is celebrated with kites, sweets and friends!
Here in Maharashtra, ladoos made of sesame seeds and jaggery (tilgul ladoos) are exchanged. My mother-in-law explained it nicely, she told me that during this day we eat sweet things and say sweet words ( tilgul ghya, goad goad bola). It is a time to make an extra effort to forgive, dissolve grudges and strengthen friendships.
Everyone else in the house had to go to work, so I was left alone with my thoughts watching the kites from our terrace. Just as I started to feel a little lonely I heard the familiar banging on our front door. Not a subtle tapping or a gentling knocking, it sounded like someone was trying to break the door down. Most people ring the door bell but there is one person who still cannot reach it and always makes sure he is heard, our three year old neighbour. I opened the door and sure enough, he was stood there with his kite.
We went onto our terrace and I made my first attempt to fly the kite, how hard could it be? Whilst the other kites were flying so high they were nearly in the clouds, ours fell onto the floor like a brick. Slowly getting more and more frustrated with my inability to fly the kite and my nonexistent Hindi (he was trying desperately to instruct me), he collected his kite and made his way to the exit and slammed the door, scolding me as he went.
Seconds passed and he had made it all the way up the stairs and into his house, he then realised the end of the string of his kite was still in our terrace, ‘Lauren didi!!’ he shouted. No matter how much I tried I could not find the source of this never ending string or untangle the string that was in sight, it was wound around plant pots and knotted in the branches of shrubs. I probably couldn’t make a web like that if I tried! In the end I made the decision to take the scissors to it (reminding me of the time I had a knot in my hair so large that it started to develop a personality) and off he went a second time (his thunder was a little deflated this time around after having to return after his grand exit).
During Harvest festival in England, we would go to church or school with a can of broad beans (or whatever is in the cupboard) and sing ‘cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green’. I have fond memories of harvest festival as a child, it would usually fall the week before my birthday (last week of September) and the moon was always full and red. Churches and schools are decorated with food to celebrate the harvest and after the service this food would be donated to the needy.
From dawn until dusk the sky remained full of kites. People were spending their entire day on their rooftops, enjoying the cool weather and the company of their friends. The different colours and different designs were wonderful.
The next day was a little sad though, where there were once stalls of pristine kites lined up ready to be sold and soar into the sky, there now hung broken and limp kites from trees and telephone lines. Once majestically prancing miles above the ground in the crystal clear sky and now chained by their own broken strings, bound there for their own eternity until they someday disintegrate. I am already looking forward to the next Makar Sankranti with its message of forgiveness and positivity… I should probably brush up on my kite flying abilities in the meantime.
Wishing you all a positive start to the new year! Tilgul ghya, goad goad bola!