Maghey Sankranti, synonymous to Makar sankranti is a festival to worship Lord Surya (God of the Sun) all across India. The festival that signifies worshipping Surya has many names all across India, in Punjab it is celebrated as Lohri, in Assam it is called the Bhogali Bihu, in Gujrat it is Uttarayan and in parts of South India it is called Pongal. Not only does this festival have its many different names; it is celebrated in many different ways involving an array of different rituals, customs, traditions and beliefs.
Why is Maghey Sankranti Celebrated in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong?
In the regions of Darjeeling, Sikkim and Kalimpong, the festival is called Maghey Sankranti. It is usually celebrated to welcome longer days of the sun and shorter nights.
In these hills, the people are very close to nature and nature is an auspicious and integral part of our lives. On this day, the people celebrate by consuming all kinds of roots that have grown under the ground throughout the winters. These roots are dug out and shown the day light a day before the festival just like us people have emerged from the long winter slumber. These are also consumed in order to honor and pay our respects to nature for providing us her humble bounties and for providing the bounties in the form of a root that has grown so much that it can be consumed. With its almost bland and humble taste, these roots that have fed generations after generations of people remind us that one can truly never go hungry in a place that worships nature.
The kinds of roots that one can find for consumption during the festival are:
Ban tarul (wild yam)
- Ghar tarul (cassava)
- Shakkarkhanda (sweet potato)
- Kusume tarul (Japanese Yam)
- Ishkush ko jara (chayote squash root)
- Pindalu (taro root)
- Simal tarul (another kind of cassava root) and
- Ful tarul (suran)
On the day of the Maghey Sankranti, the sun reaches the furthest end of the southern hemisphere and slowly starts to make its way to the northern hemisphere. And so, it is believed that the day of the Maghey Sankranti indicates the rebirth and the renewal of life itself for all the places that fall on the northern hemisphere.
Why is this such a huge festival for us, here, living in the hills?
For the people of the hills, one can only imagine how harsh the winters get (excluding of course, the people living in Delhi; we know how bone-biting the cold is in the heart of the country). For us, who have braved the snow and the disintegrating cold winds with the help of clothes and firewood, the sun is almost invisible on certain days, and on those days we become feeble with it. And when Maghey Sankranti comes nearby, people gain their confidence, their power, their life that they have wrapped up under tons of clothing and the posture starts to straighten from an almost permanent crouch. Talking about the farmers of the Hills; they become much happier and excited to see what amount and kinds of yield Mother Nature has presented them under the gift wrapping of the soil. All these reasons are reasons enough for a grand celebration and so the celebrations begin in all grandeur.
A few days before the festival, if one enters any kitchen in the hills, it will most certainly be super warm from all the kinds of cooking of various delicacies happening within. A cup of warm tea to go with it all elevates the festive warmth.
The JORETHANG MAGHEY SANKRANTI MELA
In a not so quaint little town in South Sikkim that comes alive with the preparations for the annual Jorethang Maghey Sankranti mela. Jorethang is an otherwise a very peaceful town, but on the day of Maghey sankranti, countless tourists and Mela (Fair) enthusiasts hurdle to watch the events that are bound to unravel in this picturesque thorp.
Kinds of Entertainments at the Mela:
With programs to entertain all ages, such as archery, trekking, para-gliding, river rafting and hot air-ballooning, one finds a 360 degree view to activities both on land and space. Lines after lines of stalls that sell foods, snacks, local cuisines, sweets, dairy products and traditional festive platters no one stays hungry no matter the budget. The skilled artisans of the region and the state put up their precious art work and intricate pieces of decorations and other such things also get to showcase their works and put their best foot forward during the mela. This is not all, in many centers within the fair; people may find a group of folk dancers hailing from many different tribes in their entire attire performing for the audience. The audience gathers in really large numbers to be able to witness these folk dances. People who get thrilled upon experiencing cultural events as such make it a point to visit this mela no matter where they are from. This festival of the north east when celebrated in this manner in Sikkim never disappoints its visitors.
History of the Maghey Sankranti Mela of Jorethang:
In the year 1955, on the occasion of Maghey Sankranti, a lot of people gathered to take a dip in the holy waters of the river Rangeet and Teesta. Nearby the sacred dipping scene was a line of farmers who’d come from far and wide with their wares to sell. Later, the people who came to the worship the sun and the holy waters realized that they could get a lot of wares to sell on this day in the region. And year after year, the line of farmers transformed into a full-fledged fair where people and now started selling all kinds of things. Later joyrides, traditional folk dances and adventures sports joined the list of activities and visuals and the Maghey Sankranti mela came to be what it is today.
Span of the Mela:
The entire Jorethang Maghey Sankranti Mela happens for a period of 3 days. During this span, visitors get ample time to fully explore and experience the fair in all its glory. People get busy with either witnessing the traditional folk fare happening at one end or exploring and shopping for Sikkim’s cuisines and the state’s intricate and aesthetic handicrafts and handloom products that are spread across stalls after stalls in the boundaries of the fair.
The Maghey Sankranti is a very auspicious festival for us but it is truly the people, who create the festive spirit and Mother Nature who provides for it all. Happy Maghey Sankranti everyone from NE Origins, May Lord Surya keep shining upon us all with their divine grace!