India’s festivals are stretching beyond their traditional geographic boundaries, bringing the country together.
According to Indian astrological tradition, the movement of the Sun from one Zodiac sign to another is celebrated in the form of the Makar Sankranti festival, which marks a new phase in the harvesting season.
Many in India see the transition as the beginning of an auspicious or “holy” phase of transition. To welcome the onset of a new harvest season, thousands of people flock to bathe in the holy Ganga Sagar, the point where the river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal.
Various regions including in the north, east and part of the south of India also hold their own culturally distinct festivals to celebrate the occasion. In parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, for example, people prepare seasonal delicacies, like chuda (flattened rice), curd, gud (jaggery), and sweet dishes made of til (sesame seeds).
Assam celebrates it as Bhogali Bihu, marked by a week of feasting. Pitha (rice cake) is prepared and the Bihu dance is enjoyed as a symbol of the culmination of a harvesting season and an occasion for joy.
The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu observes the day as Thai Pongal, dedicated to the Sun god Surya. Special dishes and community feasting are organized to mark the day.
The western Indian state of Gujarat celebrates the day as Uttarayan. Since kite-flying is a traditional component of the festival, the local government has organized a week-long kite event this year.
With more and more people travelling and living outside of their usual cultural boundaries, these festivals are no longer confined to their traditional geographical locations, becoming much more mobile.
Assamese communities in Delhi celebrate Bihu with great fanfare, while those from other cultural backgrounds also participate in large numbers.
Similarly, dishes like Pongal and Makar Sankranti gain importance in the capital and other metro areas, and have well and truly reached out from their original geographical areas to become part of the mainstream.
This increase in mobility has encouraged the spread of inter-cultural bonds, which themselves in turn have strengthened India’s identity. Ultimately, these festivals are about more than the individual occasion – they are also a reminder of the rich and diverse cultural backgrounds that Indians should be celebrating.