Food

Shankranthi – of sesame, sugarcane and feasts of the harvest

One of the most auspicious days of the Hindu Calendar, Makara Shankranthi falls on 15-January this year.  This is a day of special significance as it marks the movement of the Sun into the Makara raashi and also the end of the winter solstice.  The day marks the beginning of longer days and heralds the movement of the sun northwards and is hence also known as Uttarayan.  A highly important harvest festival celebrated according to the solar calendar, it is celebrated as Magh Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Shankranti in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Poush Sankranti in West Bengal, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Lohri and Maghi in Punjab and Pana Sankranti in Odisha.

Harvest bounty
Harvest bounty

An interesting aspect to note here is that irrespective of the region, the festival is intrinsically associated with elements like sesame, jaggery, sugarcane and harvest vegetables all of which epitomize the spirit of Shankranthi.  Here is a look at some of these symbols that are quintessentially Shankranthi.

Sesame seeds and jaggery aka Ellu bella:

“Ellu bella thindhu, Olle maathadu” is a common saying in Kannada which literally means eat sesame and jaggery and say good things on this day.  Considered auspicious, ellu bella is a dry mixture of five ingredients- roasted sesame seeds, groundnut, fried gram, jaggery and dried coconut which is exchanged between family members and friends.  “Ellu and bella apart from being the produce of the season, are all about contrasting tastes and flavours which is essentially the essence of life.  We also pray using ellu for the well-being of children and as a means to ward off the evil eye” says Rukmini, a home maker from Bangalore.

Fresh Jaggery
Fresh Jaggery

Apart from ellu bella in Karnataka, gur ki roti (Jaggery flatbread) and til ki barfi (sesame seed cakes) are famous preparations up north, especially in Punjab.  Consuming jaggery and sesame seeds during this time also helps keep the body warm.

Til ki Barfi_Pic courtesy The Reservoire, Bangalore
Til ki Barfi_Pic courtesy The Reservoire, Bangalore

Harvest vegetables

Shankranthi is primarily a festival of harvest and it is customary to consume the freshly harvested produce at this time, so whether it is the sweet pumpkin or Hyacinth beans or avarekai, the medley of vegetables is not only delectable but also has significant health benefits.  So, whether it is Avarekai rasam, sweet pumpkin raitha and Ezhukari Kootu (Seven vegetables curry) from the south or Undhiyu from the western state of Gujarat, mixed harvest veggies are a key component of the festival menu.

Avarekai Rasam
Avarekai Rasam
Seven vegetable curry
Seven vegetable curry

Undhiyu_Pic Courtesy, Masala Mandi, Bangalore

Undhiyu_Pic Courtesy, Masala Mandi, Bangalore

Sugarcane and sugar candies

Sugarcane is an important produce during this time and is a key part of this festival.   In Karnataka, sugarcane pieces are exchanged with ellu bella.  It is also common to prepare “sakkre acchu” or sugar candies using sugar syrup which is a unique tradition in parts of Karnataka.  An age-old traditional recipe that is a dying art today. this one involves making sugar syrup and pouring the same into wooden moulds.  These are in various shapes like a house, tulsi plant, elephant etc and are exchanged with the “ellu bella” mixture.

Ellu bella and Sakkare Achu for Shankranthi
Ellu bella and Sakkare Achu for Shankranthi

Makara Chaula is a delicious recipe from Odisha that also uses sugarcane.  It is made with freshly harvested rice that is washed, dried and ground and mixed with a variety of ingredients like milk, cottage cheese, sugarcane, jaggery, ginger, pepper and cut fruits.

Makara Chaula_Pic courtesy The Belgadia Palace
Makara Chaula_Pic courtesy The Belgadia Palace

4 thoughts on “Shankranthi – of sesame, sugarcane and feasts of the harvest

  1. Rashmi..the flavour and relevance of the season so eloquently brought out in this post of yours. The significance of the harvest festival with all its favourite pleasantries do make our Indian festivals joyful and meaningful.
    It was a virtual treat with lip smacking treats such as undhiyu and ezhu curry kootu.
    Delightful post as always

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