Fire and light works at Bangla Bazar in Old Dhaka to celebrate Poush Shankranti, also known as Shakrain on 14 January.
Fire and light works at Bangla Bazar in Old Dhaka to celebrate Poush Shankranti, also known as Shakrain on 14 January. Dipu Malakar

All the festivals have lost charm due to world’s encounter with the lethal coronavirus in 2019. People miss the ambiance and joy of their favourite festivals - be these religious or cultural. The most significant harvest festivals of the Indian sub-continent, Poush Sankranti, is round the corner. This is celebrated on the last day of Poush, the ninth month of the Bangla year.

The festival is known by different names across the region. In Bangladesh and West Bengal of India, it is known as Poush Sankranti, Makar Sankranti in Karnataka, Vihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu.

Makar Sankranti is also called the Uttarayan or the beginning of the time when the sun begins its northward journey. From this period the days begin to grow longer. This festival is more of a cultural festival than a religious one observed by the people of all walks of life in India since long.

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According to Bangiyo Loksanskriti Kosh by Barun Kumar Chakraborty, Muslims in Bengal collected rice from door to door while singing hymns of Manik Pir during the Poush Sankranti

The length of celebration varies in different regions. In parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh the festival continues for four days - from the last day of the Bangla month Poush to third day of Magh. People in Telegu also celebrate the Sankranti for four days. The festival is celebrated for one or two days in the other areas.

Although people from the Hindu community arrange puja and celebrate the occasion with rituals, people from other religions also have been observing the festival in their own ways for years.

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Poush Sankranti is a propitious day as the farmers start harvesting their crops at the time. The theme of the festival is the same everywhere despite its different names across the region. Hindu people offer prayers and special food to their household deities, goddess Lakshmi or Lord Vishnu on the day.

According to Bangiyo Loksanskriti Kosh by Barun Kumar Chakraborty, Muslims in Bengal collected rice from door to door while singing hymns of Manik Pir during the Poush Sankranti.

The book says, people used to collect rice, spices, oil and other cooking essentials and feast to celebrate the occasion. They offered vegetarian foods to gods first. The rituals were different for different cultures.

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The word Sankranti means transmigration of the sun from one constellation to the next. During Poush or Makar Sankranti the sun transits into Makara constellation on its celestial path.

As paddy is harvested in plenty at the time the food made during the festival are mostly made with rice or rice flour.

In rural areas, the women clean their homes, paint ‘alpona’ (colourful motifs) with paste made of rice flower, and hang up small bunches of mango leaves and rice sheaves welcoming Lakshmi.

In Bangladesh Poush Sankranti is celebrated with various rituals - flying kites, making pithas (rice cakes) and sharing those with loved ones.

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Residents of old Dhaka fly kites, hot-air lanterns and let off fireworks to celebrate Poush Shankranti. This is known as Shakrain. People of all ages go to Gandaria, Shankhari Bazaar and Lakshmibazar of the capital to enjoy the fun and festivity with friends and family.

The celebrations start early in the morning. People of Old Dhaka go to the rooftops of almost every building and fly kites. The festival reaches its full height in the evening as the fireworks, laser-shows and music are turned on.

The joy of the festival may be faded this year because of the COVID-19 situation in the country. We need to cope with the disappointment of not being able to celebrate the occasion in the usual way. We must try to be happy and enjoy as much as we can, of course following proper health rules.

Flouting health rules and not social distancing will only exacerbate the ongoing situation and may ruin many more festivals ahead. Happy Poush Sankranti to all. May the new day bring new hopes and prosperity in the coming days.