It is time again to observe the ritual called 'Ellu Birodhu' (Sankranthi offering) on occasion of Makara Sankranthi which falls on January 14. Similarly, on this day, people eat Ellu bella (a sweet made of Til and jaggery), forgetting all ill-feelings and filling in its place with sweet memories. The occasion also demands getting together as one, living in harmony and peace, for a bright future.
On this auspicious day, young females wear new clothes to visit near and dear ones with the Sankranthi offering in a plate, and exchange the same with other families. Here the plate would normally contain
Ellu" (white sesame seeds) mixed with fried groundnuts, neatly cut copra and fine cut jaggery. The mixture is called "Ellu Bella". The plate will also contain sugar candy moulds of various forms with a piece of sugarcane. This signifies the harvest of the season.
Also youngsters offer "Ellu bella" to elders and seek blessings from them. "Ellu bella thindhu, Olle maathaaadu" is a proverb which means speak good after consuming sesame seeds and jaggery. Distributing of sugar cane, jagerry, Ellu mixture along with sugar candy is the tradition in Karnataka. In some households, there is also a tradition of giving away red berries "Yalchi Ka" along with them.
Another important ritual especially in rural areas is display of cows and cattle in many colourful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession. They are also made to cross a pyre in the evening.
Makara Sankranthi is also called as the harvest festival or Pongal. This festival marks the beginning of Sun's journey to northern hemisphere, called Uttarayana punyakala. It is the time when the sun passes from one zodiac sign to another. On this day, sweet pongal is prepared, offered to Sun God - Surya and distributed to all. Usually, Pongal is a four-day festival celebrated with lot of gusto. It is observed in the Tamil month, Thai Masam. The festival begins on January 14 with Bhogi Pongal. It is the biggest harvest festival celebrated as Thanks Giving occasion to the nature. Bhogi Pongal (Jan 14), Surya Pongal (Jan 15), Mattu Pongal (Jan 16), Kannum Pongal (Jan 17) are the four festivals celebrated on first, second, third and fourth day respectively.
Pongal marks the suns transit or sankramana to Makara Rashi or Capricorn zodiac sign. Sankramana Snana or the ritual bath during Makara Sankramana is the most auspicious ritual observed along the banks of holy rivers.
Newly-harvested rice in the presence of sunshine is cooked and consumed on this day in rural areas.
The science behind this tradition
Cooking rice in presence of sunlight helps to get Vitamin D for one full year. Sesame seeds are a good antioxidant; dry kernel of coconut (copra) is anti-bacterial and anti-viral agent. Also it has saturated fatty acid which prevents infections. Besides it has lauric acid, an anti-viral agent. Oil in the nut helps to rejuvenate the muscles, enhances hair growth and premature aging of the skin. Eating coconut, sesame mixture helps to prevent the viral attack. Turmeric used in pongal is also an anti-viral agent. The winter is the time for virus and bacteria to breed and can cause illness. So our ancestors have done good for the next generations by observing this festival. As the festival is celebrated in mid winter, food prepared for this festival is such that it keeps the body warm and gives high energy. All these keep virus and bacteria at bay.