When the little girl (which was me ages ago) was asked to dress up for any festival or perform a ritual for it, she used to get very impatient with all these processes. And then with a mix of innocence and defiance she would ask her mom, the rationale for so many festivals. She even rationalised it that it must be surely because of lack of activities on the part of our ancestors, who devised so many of them. After all it was pre- TV, internet and computer games era. And then she would feel very proud of her intelligent reasoning, until her mom deflated her false pride.
The patient mother explained to the little girl that the ancestors had some other plans when they created these beautiful cultural gems. They had the foresight to see the world post modernization, when we would have time for the social networks but not for the real interactions. When understanding the significance of nature and religion would be guided by google and wikipedia. And for this time and age, different rituals were developed to keep the love, respect and memory of all aspects of our lives alive. They created these occasions, when we would celebrate these festivals, meet others socially, cook with love and remember our customs.
Lohri, Pongal and Makar Snakranti are one of the first festivals that mark the beginning of the new year. Different festivals, celebrated by different communities in different parts of India at almost the same time. While Lohri is celebrated on 13th January, Pongal is 4 day celebration at same time and Makar Sankranti is celebrated on the 14th January, they all are ways to celebrate the new harvest.
At our place, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as an ode to the agricultural community and to pray for healthy harvest. The most common way of celebration is a small prayer with the khicdi, or chuda (all from the new grains) prepared and offered to God. Other than that the most popular sweet offering is "til ke laddoo" or "til ke gajak" - sweet of sesame seeds and jaggery.
Til ke Laddoo Recipe
(Sweet balls of jaggery, coconut, peanuts and sesame seeds)
Recipe Source: Minimally adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor
1 cup jaggery
200 gms til - white sesame seeds
3/4 cup grated coconut
2-3 tbsp crushed peanuts (Or cashews/ almonds)
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1/2 tbsp ghee/ unsalted butter
- Dry roast sesame seeds in a pan on medium heat; till pale/light brown about 4-5 mins. Remove and set aside.
- In same pan, roast coconut till light brown. Remove and then roast peanuts. Keep aside.
- Heat saucepan and add jaggery to it. Let it cook till it melts completely. Stir in between. Once melted, add ghee and remove from heat. Remember not to let it get burnt.
- Add roasted sesame, coconut, peanuts and cardamom powder to it and mix well. Let it cool slightly.
- Once cool enough to handle by hand, take small lumps of mixture and make balls of it with the help of your palms.
- Ensure that the mixture is still warm when rolling.
- You can check the consistency of jaggery by putting a small drop in chilled water. If it immediately forms a ball, the consistency is right.
- No need to buy cardamom powder. Just open the shell of green cardamoms and crush the seeds with mortar and pestle.