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Sankranti is that time of the year where one great activity follows another throughout the 3-4 days of celebration. The celebration starts a day before, with Bhogi, an event that features a huge open bonfire – lit with logs of wood, during which family members gather their unwanted belongings (worn clothes or old and broken items) to be burnt. Amid all the heavy rain and cold mornings during this season, a campfire at dawn can indeed be warming.
The following day, everyone’s up early for the morning preparations – arranging the altar, dishing out an array of delicacies and dressing themselves in their new festive garments. The altar, cleaned in and out, is decorated and prepared for the morning prayers. The outside of the house is then festooned with sugarcane sticks, mango leaves and a “Muggu” or “Rangoli”, an elaborate and colourful pattern made with chalk or flour on the ground. Children are showered and dressed in traditional wear as adults put together their own elegant and resplendent outfits.
In Malaysia, we generally do the ‘milk boiling’ ritual on a make shift stove outside the house. We await for the milk to boil over, a symbol of a year of prosperity ahead. The milk is then used to boil rice and jaggery to make the hallmark dish for the celebration. Topped with ghee, raisins and fried cashew nuts, the sweet rice is first offered to the Gods during morning prayers and then served to everyone.
Families then gather together for the festival, to distribute a variety of sweets and prepare a smorgasbord of special dishes including Kalakaya Koora, Ariselu, Laddu, Boorelu, Garelu, Minappa Garelu (dipped in jaggery) and fried chick peas and most importantly, sweet rice (java). The cuisine is the highlight of the day and is always a treat for everyone.
Sankranti is the occasion that re-unites families, brings about change and transformation and celebrates a year’s harvest (in traditional times though, now it would correspond with the time workers receive promotions and bonuses for their work!).