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The Financial Express

A CLOSE LOOK

The festival of Poush Sankranti is on its way out


The festival of  Poush Sankranti  is on its way out

Poush Sankranti or Makar Sankranti, otherwise known as Poush Parban is celebrated in Bangladesh and West Bengal on the last day of the Bangla month Poush. It is primarily a harvesting festival, like similar others, in an agrarian society. It is an ancient festival similar to the Thesmophoria which was observed in ancient Greece in honour of Demeter, the goddess of all grains. What is known as Makar Sankranti in West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh is known as Pongol in some states of South India, Uttarayan in Gujarat and Bhogali in Assam.
Although the festival took a gradual turn for secular transformation in Bangladesh, the tradition in old Dhaka, where 'Shakrine' is still celebrated with much fervour, and in several other areas still survives. It is a tradition of the Makar Sankranti's ritual. The Sun god is worshipped perhaps in keeping with the Upanishad's veneration of it as the source of all power that goes into the making of seeds in grains. A kind of thanksgiving to the sun for keeping lives on the planet sustainable.
Like Greek women who had played the leading role in celebrating Thesmophoria, Bangalee Hindu women also are more involved with the ritualistic part of the celebration let alone the preparation of a vaiety of delectable pithas (cake) with powder from newly harvested rice powder and date molasses. Considering Poush as the month of Lakshmi, the goddess of grains, women offer recitation of 'broto katha' (kind of devotional folk verse) in order to sanctify the occasion. The idea is that the goddess will sustain the affluence of the auspicious month of Lakshmi all through the year.
In that effort, in some areas, there was and still is a ritual called 'auni bauni'. A number of paddy sheaves were cut off ---the responsibility of which was on none other than young boys of the families---and brought home and put in a freshly taken out banana tree's stem cover folded like a receptacle. Along with the paddy sheaves, five or seven mango leaves are tied inside and a sign picture is drawn with a few dots on the banana stem cover. Auni bauni will stay home and enjoy pithas.
However, the preparation for the celebration begins---better say used to begin--- a few days earlier. Selection of the right kind of paddy for rice powder and husking it well before the Sankranti and the powder were made from dheki (traditional husking device) only on the day pithas have to be prepared.
The fact is such rituals have now become few and far between because, in many areas of Bangladesh Aman paddy is no longer cultivated and hence there is no question of binding a bunch of paddy sheaf with something usually on the pole at the main door of a house. The ritual of preparing traditional pithas may still survive but chances are that the right kind of newly harvested paddy cannot be collected.
Gone are the days when young boys volunteered to go to one of the crop fields for collection of a bunch of paddy sheaf. Now is the time for preparing land for the next boro cultivation instead of harvest. This has been continuing for several decades and today's young boys even do not know what "Ag Kata" is. Indeed, this was called so, because it represented the symbolic beginning of harvest of the new crop.
Even the kinds of pithas today villagers can prepare are a poor copy of the past. First, the fine Aman rice that was so common then is no longer there and also the date molasses is of poor quality. Excepting in a few pockets, date trees are becoming rare and also those extractors of date juice called 'gachis' are becoming a nearly extinct breed. So the tradition is on the way out.
Today, the urban elite culture has tried to incorporate the festival in its expanding range. No harm in that but the fact is this rural festival cannot be substituted by the well decorated and neatly arranged environment. Villagers have their own indolent and simple way of observing and celebrating occasions and festivals. It seems the time has taken its toll, never will return those days of rural reign over festivals.

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