Celebrating the Indian Harvest Festival of Shankranthi. A harvest inspired vegetarian feast.

After days and weeks of solid good rain here in Northern California, we finally see some sunshine 😊🌞.  It seriously feels like spring – Not! Birds are chirping as if it is spring, little do they know that rain and cool temperatures are coming back very soon – within a few days 🌧.

But as far as celebrating weather goes, it is the perfect warm weekend here to celebrate a farming harvest festival called Shankranthi which is observed all over India on January 14th. This Indian harvest festival is known by different names depending on what region of India you are from. In Gujarat in western India, Shankranthi is known as Uttarayan, while in Tamilnadu in Southern India it is known as Pongal, while in the central, eastern and northern India this harvest festival is known as Maghi.

Shankranthi is celebrated every year on January 14th and is the only Hindu festival that is celebrated according to the solar calendar, unlike other Indian festivals that follow the lunar calendar and can occur on different dates depending on the year.

In places like Gujarat in western India, the Shankranthi harvest festival is celebrated with a kite festival where families, friends, and entire neighborhoods get together early in the morning on their balconies to fly kites and have a friendly competition on who can fly their kite the furthest. After the early morning kite flying party, they have a big feast at brunch time before the heat of the sun gets too hot for a picnic outside.

In the state of Tamilnadu in Southern India, Shankranthi is called Pongal or Tamil New Year and is celebrated to bring in the harvest bounty in the January/February time frame when crops in Tamilnadu such as rice, sugarcane, and turmeric are harvested. Pongal is a thanksgiving ceremony of sorts for the year’s harvest. In the villages Pongal is observed over four days, but with globalization and the migration of Tamilians to all parts of the world, it is now observed for just one day on January 14th.

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During the Pongal festivities families get together with a big feast and celebrate together.

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The main dish on Pongal is a thick rice porridge with lentils which is also called pongal. There are two variations of pongal at any Pongal celebrations. A savory pongal and a sweet pongal. The savory pongal is made with rice, lentils, salt and spices. While the sweet pongal is made with rice, brown sugar , raisins, nuts, and milk. Both of these pongals are eaten with a dollop of ghee.

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Our family was invited to my cousin Uma & Nando’s home to celebrate Pongal this past weekend. Uma made both savory and sweet pongals for lunch along with an array of delicious South Indian Tamil vegetarian dishes – and they were all scrumptious!

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Here are some pics from our Pongal celebration family get together here in Sunnyvale, California.

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Lunch is ready!

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A special lentil stew (sambhar) that Uma made specifically for the Pongal celebration consisted of seven vegetables to signify the various types of vegetables harvested from the farms. Uma informed me that the lentil stew is called ezhu:  “This samhar is called “ezhu (Seven) kari kootu (stew), and is made with what is called country vegetables, mostly root veggies, yam, sweet potato, potato, carrots, sweet pumpkin, ash gourd, Indian flat beans, and Indian lima beans.”

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The kids even got to have a tea party in the warm California sunshine!

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Happy Pongal, Shankranthi, Maghi, Uttarayan!
Happy harvest festival!

More info about the four-day festival of Pongal celebrated in Tamilnadu
from India Today Pongal Festival

“The festival of Pongal is celebrated for four days in the farming community in Tamilnadu.

On the first day, Bhogi festival is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, the god of rains. The ritual of Bhogi Mantalu is also observed this day, when old clothes and materials are thrown away into a bonfire marking the beginning of a new life.

The second day, the Pongal day, is celebrated by boiling fresh milk early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel – a tradition that is the literal translation for Pongal. People also prepare savories and sweets, visit each other’s homes, and exchange greetings.

Young girls cooking rice in an earthen pot on Pongal

The third day, Mattu Pongal, is meant to offer thanks to the cows and buffaloes, as they are used to plough the lands. On this day cattle are adorned with bells, sheaves of corn and garlands and worshipped.

Cow adorened for Mattu (cow) Pongal

On the last day, Kanum Pongal, people go out to picnic. On this day, a ritual is also performed where the leftover sweet Pongal and other food are set out in the courtyard on a washed turmeric leaf, along with betel leaves, betel nuts and sugar cane for the crows and birds to partake of, and for good wishes and prosperity for the women’s brothers. 

11 thoughts on “Celebrating the Indian Harvest Festival of Shankranthi. A harvest inspired vegetarian feast.”

  1. We make a seven grain khichdi on Sankranti and it is allowed to boil over – for prosperity.
    Of course we have to make chikki – sesame seed, peanuts, mumra/puffed rice or split chick peas. My mom would put coins in chikki laddus – and kids thought they were given by God.
    By the way Surat has a reputation for having the best kites and thread to fly kites. Thread is treated with crushed glass as the goal is to cut other kites !!!

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  2. Hey Kalpana—-Rita here- remember me???
    Was thinking of you last week and wanted to send you a hi but your contact seemed to have got lost and I just couldn’t get you out of my mind. So last night I really freaked out when I saw your post out of the blue. Must apologize for the loooong silence. Kalpana, you’re so good with words and the posts are so well put .
    You know what- I’d request you to give me the recipe for the broccoli rice you’d taught me.
    Well-hope Hitesh is fine. Love to the girls.Will try to catch up later. Until then- bye

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stranger! How are you doing in Mumbai? I can’t believe you still remember that broccoli rice recipe I gave you when we were living in Japan together! Hilarious! I I will have go back in my memory box in my mind and dig it up 😀so I can pass it on to you. Much love to everyone. So good to hear from you Rita! Don’t lose touch again!

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  3. Thank you Dolly! I enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes, but I have to say all of my inspiration to have such get togethers comes from you, the passion and the details with which you hold those events. Planning-wise I have to go a long way and learn a lot from you, It is always a mad rush for me at the end 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wanted to let you know I enjoyed reading about the Daniel Fast on your blong. I’d never heard of it before but its seems like a very cool way to start the new year with healthy eating and cleasing of mind, body and soul. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Liked by 1 person

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