Hindu women sit around fires to keep warm before taking holy baths at Saali River during the Swasthani Brata Katha festival at Sankhu in Kathmandu, Nepal, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2YKYD

India’s Hindu pilgrims celebrated on Saturday the beginning of Uttarayana, the sun’s movement northward for six months, in the annual Pongal festival that also marks the end of the farming season.

In Hinduism, Uttarayana is considered auspicious, as opposed to Dakshinaayana, or the southern movement of the sun.

Pongal, which is the only festival that follows the solar calendar, has astronomical significance. All important events are scheduled during this period. Makara Sankranthi refers to the event of the sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.

In Hindu temples, bells, drums, clarinets and conch shells herald the joyous occasion of Pongal, which also signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving people a break from their monotonous routine.

To symbolize a bountiful harvest, rice is cooked in new pots until they boil over. Some of the rituals performed in the temple include the preparation of rice, the chanting of prayers and the offering of vegetables, sugar cane and spices to the gods. Devotees then consume the offerings to exonerate themselves of past sins.

Farmers also perform puja to some crops, marking the end of the traditional farming season. It also sets the pace for a series of festivals to follow in a calendar year.

Four festivals are celebrated in Tamil Nadu for four consecutive days in that week. Bogi is celebrated on January 13, Pongal on January 14, Maattuppongal on January 15, and Thiruvalluvar Day on January 16.

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