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Isheeta Sharma

Listen, girl of shapely legs,
about this time, the winter:
the ample fields are filled with ripe
crops of rice and sugar cane;
and, here and there, with pleasing cries
echoing, of the heron and the crane.
Of intense love, it is a season
that is dear to all young women.

Ritusamharam: A Gathering of Seasons
Kalidasa (Trans. A.N.D. Haksar)

Pausha Purnima arrives on January 10 bringing Pausha mas (month) – and with it Hemanta rtu – to a close.

In the traditional Tamil calendar this Purnima is dedicated to Shiva and celebrated as Arudra Darshan. Nataraja – as Shiva is known when he is performing the cosmic dance – is worshipped on this day with ritual offerings and Vedic chants.

The next day, on January 11, the first month of Shishir rtu – Magha – begins with Pratipada, the first day of the lunar fortnight. Shishir rtu is the colder, deeper part of winter. It is also characterised by a transition from feminine to masculine energy – from Shakti to Shiva. Perhaps, this is why the traditional festivals around this time celebrate Shiva in his many forms.

This year we have a penumbral Lunar eclipse on January 11. Unlike a total or partial Lunar eclipse, a penumbral Lunar eclipse is much more subtle and only a light outer shadow of the Earth falls on the face of the Moon. This will be the first of the four penumbral Lunar eclipses that will occur in 2020.

Makar Sankranti on January 15 sees the transition of the Sun’s journey from the zodiac of Sagittarius (Dhanu) to the Capricorn (Makar) zodiac. Traditionally, this day marks the start of Uttarayana – the first ‘ayana’ or half of the year. The shadows now get shorter and the heat slowly begins to increase day by day. This is a time of outward growth marked by masculine energy.

In the epic Mahabharata Bhishma Pitamah lay on his bed of arrows for 58 days until he finally passed from the mortal world on the day that Uttarayana began. It is thought that he awaited this transition in nature to finally make his transition as well. This is because traditional belief posits that Moksha cannot be attained if you leave your body in Dakshinayana. It is only in Uttarayana that you can break free of the cycle of death and rebirth.

Makar Sankranti, which commemorates the movement of the Sun, is also a harvest festival. Many people observe a day-long fast on this day, dedicating it to the Sun god and breaking it after dusk by consuming light foods such as Khichdi.

Lohri, also known as Lal Loi or Lohadi, always precedes Makar Sankranti by a day. This year it falls on January 14. In the north Indian tradition folk songs sung on Lohri often invoke the Sun god, welcoming him and thanking him for his warmth. Traditionally Lohri celebrations used to begin during the day with children going from door to door, singing folk songs and collecting treats such as jaggery, peanuts, til, gajjak, etc. Their collection is what is known as ‘Lohri’. In the evening bonfires are lit and Lohri (jaggery, peanuts, til, gajjak, etc.) passed around for people to offer to the fire and eat.

In south India Bhogi Pandigai is celebrated on January 14 and is the first day of the four-day Makar Sankranti celebrations that take place in parts of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Traditionally people clean their homes on this day, discarding items no longer needed. A special ritual known as Bhogi Pallu is performed for the young children of the house. In this ritual a mixture of Regi Pallu (Jujube fruit), flower petals, sugarcane, jaggery, and soaked and drained black gram is showered on children early in the morning by the women of the house in order to bless and protect them.

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