Sankranti, in general, refers to the first day of the month. Magh is the 10th month of Nepal’s official Calendar, the Bikram Sambat Calendar. Therefore, the first day of the Nepali month Magh is known as Maghe Sankranti. Nonetheless, the different community of Nepal honors this day under several titles and engage in various events. Makar Sankranti, Maaghi, Ghiu-Chaku khane din, Tiluwa Sankranti etc are other names of Maghe Sankranti.
The day marks the sun shifting to Makar (Capricorn) from Dhanu (Sagittarius), which signifies the end of the winter equinox and the onset of longer days hence calling the day “Makar Sankranti”. This day supposedly ends the winter and heralds spring and planting seasons.
On this day, many Hindus take holy baths in rivers, mainly at confluences Triveni (3 rivers) and Dovan (2 rivers), and ponds, and the bathing ritual is called “Makar Snan”. Poush, the 9th month of the Nepali Calendar is considered an inauspicious month according to the Nepali-Astrology. Hindu Nepalese refrain from performing any religious ceremonies on Poush. So, the belief is Makar Snan washes off any inauspiciousness from oneself.
After the bath, people visit various temples but mostly locals to offer the Sankranti foods to god first. Then they gather to eat delicacies like ghiu (refined ghee), Chaku (Molases) hence the day is called “Ghiu-Chaku Khane Din”. The food platter augments root vegetables (like yam and sweet potatoes), khichadi (mung dal and rice porridge), and Til ko Laddo (candie made by combining chaku and sesame seeds), spinach, gahat (gram horse beans). These foods are specially made for this festival only. The belief is eating ghiu-chaku and sesame seeds generates heat in the body to fight the harsh winter. Since lots of sesame seeds are eaten on this day, the day is also called “Tilauri Sankranti”.
There is an old phrase, “Poush ma pakya, Magh ma khyaka,” which literally means “cooked on Poush, eaten on Magh.” So ritualistically all the foods are cooked on the last day of Poush and eaten on the Maghe Sankranti day.
The Tharus, people of Southern Nepal, call the festival “Maaghi”, it is their New Year’s Day. On the occasion, people dressed in traditional Tharu attire perform cultural displays and parades around the country. They bathe in rivers and lakes and worship the Sun god to wash off their sins performed knowingly or unknowingly. Besides ghiu, chaku, tilko laddo they cook their native foods like dhikri, bagiya, bahruwa karela, pork, and fish as a Maaghi feast.
Newars, the natives of the Kathmandu valley call the day as ‘Ghyo Chaku Sanhu,’ the day to eat Ghiu-Chaku, and celebrate it to honor of the departed souls of their beloved family members. On this day, the head of the family, either mother or grandmother, applies lukewarm mustard oil to their children’s heads.
Tales about Maghe Sankranti
According to folklore, a merchant from Bhadgaun (now Bhaktapur district of the Kathmandu Valley) was doing well with his business of sesame because he never ran out of sesame stock. The baffled merchant thought of finding the reason behind it. He removed sesame sacks and discovered Lord Vishnu’s idol underneath the last one. The deity is now housed in a temple at Toumadhi Square in Bhaktapur and is now worshiped as Til Madhav Narayan. Madhav Narayan is another name of Visnu and he was found amongst Til (sesame), hence “Til Madhav Narayan”. It is believed that worshiping the deity will bring food, prosperity, and fortune to oneself and family.
According to the famous Epic Mahabharata, there is once Bhismapitamaha, a son of the river Ganga and Santanu the king of Kuru Kingdom. Bhismapitamaha was so powerful that he could choose his time for death (Mitru). Arjun, the central character of Mahabharat shoots arrows in all his body during the battle but Bhismapitamaha doesn’t die. He keeps lying on the bed of arrows and chooses the Maghe Sankranti day as his death day because it is believed that those who die on this day get to heaven and are free of the agony of life, death, and reincarnation.
Foods we eat on this day
Maghe Sankranti evokes up memories of delectable foods. Tilauri, Till ko laddu (Brown Sesame Seed Fudge), Chakku (Molasses), Ghiu (Clarified Butter), a curry of spinach, boiled or steamed root vegetables like yam, sweet potatoes is Maghe Shankranti’s particular celebratory dish. Patne Palungo, fried spinach cultivated specifically in Nepal, and yam (Tarul in Nepali) are both considered highly significant and unique foods during Maghe Sankranti. Sesame and mustard oil is used in massaging people’s body and head. It is believed that massaging the body with sesame oil and consuming foods such as ghiu chaku, Til ko Laddoo (sweet made from molasses and sesame seeds), Spinach, and yam make us stronger healthier, and warmer during winter.
Importance of sesame
Sesame has significant importance in Sanatan Sanskar, whether it is for home reciting as a charu, worship, and charity, or any patriarchal and good deeds. Today, it is famous for til ko laddu. Today’s special dish is made by frying sesame seeds and coating them in sakhkar. As a result, Maghe Sakranti is also known as Tiluwa Sakranti.
Chaku Preparation in Tokha
Chaku is a popular Nepali delicacy, especially during the Maghe Sankranti festival. And, despite its popularity in the bustling streets of Asantole, Chaku has traditionally been prepared in Tokha. The center of Chaku making can be found at Tokha, in the southwest part of the Kathmandu valley. Anyone entering the narrow path of Tokha will be greeted with the unique smell of it as they walk down the streets lined with stores preparing Chaku. Tokha is well-known for making this traditional Nepali chocolate. The perfume of ‘chaku‘ is filled the air in Tokha’s different lanes. The captivating sweet scent of Chaku will fill the entire alley of Tokha.
There are certainly challenges when it comes to businesses like these, one of which is a lack of raw resources. Sugarcane fields are drying up, and without jaggery, the main ingredient, production would collapse entirely. Furthermore, these products are not available for purchase until a few months later, at Yomari Punhi and Maghe Sankranti. Chaku is exclusively made during the Yomari Punhi and Maghe Sankranti months. As a result, these types of businesses frequently struggle to find workers for only a few months out of the year.
How do Tharu Community Celebrate Maghi
Maghe Sankranti is the most important festival in the Tharu community. It’s called Maghi. The entire family gathers and prepares a large feast for this festival. The indigenous tribes of Nepal’s inner Terai valleys and Terai plains are known as “The Tharus.” Tharus has become known in recent years for its hospitality, honesty, and generosity.
They make a grand celebration of Maghi from the last week of the month of Poush to the third day of Magh. During the festival, Bhalmansa (a community judge who renders justice), Guruwa (a person in charge of treating people), and Chiragi (a guard) are appointed. Mahato, Mahakama, and Wadghar are other names for Bhalmansa. Bhalmansa is termed diffrentky in different areas. This practice is known as Khojini and Bojhini since a new leader is chosen to take over the responsibilities of the community to maintain peace and prosperity.
Maghi is celebrated as the New Year by the Tharus in Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke, Bardiya, and Dang districts. During Maghi, Tharus usually make plans for the entire upcoming year. Each family member’s responsibility is likewise allotted. Tharus celebrates this day with mouthwatering meat delicacies of pigs, boars, ducks, and hens. Also, they produce liquor at home for this occasion to add extra zing to the celebration. A special delicacy is also made by combining sesame seed and a local fragrant variety of sticky rice ‘anadi rice’ (locally known as andik). The festival is celebrated by enjoying a variety of dishes such as:
Gengta Chutney is a carb pickle that is cleaned, cooked, and prepared for Maghe Sankranti. You can have it as a snack or combine it with other foods after mixing it with the local spices.
Chichar is a type of steam anadi rice that is consumed during this festival. Anadi rice is sticky rice grown in Nepal’s western plains. It is also used to prepare various Tharu cuisine including Aandik jhor/Jaar (liquor).
Tilauri (Teel ko laddu):
It is a special delicacy prepared from sesame seeds and molasses or jaggery.
Laiyaa or Murai ko laddu:
It is made from puffed rice and molasses or jaggery
It is like gundruk but made from fermenting shredded radish
It is made by wrapping rice or legume paste and spices in taro or colocasia leaves, then steaming, slicing, and deep-frying it. Generally, kaalo mass (black lentils) or masyang/syaltung are used as legumes (rice beans).
It is a similar type of delicacy, but the lentils are cooked whole, forming discs rather than being wrapped in colocasia leaves.
Freshwater mussels are found locally. It is cleaned, boiled, and cooked in dishes flavored with spices.
Dhikri is a rice flour-based dish from western Tharu cuisine. The rice dough is also steamed and formed into various shapes. They are served with lentil soup, curry, and chutney. Dhikri is made during Maghe Sankranti and has religious significance.
Bagiya is a flatbread made of rice flour. It is made up of lentils, spices, and boiled potatoes. Some of them are stuffed with chakku as well.
It is a popular delicacy prepared from mud-water snail found in paddy fields and streams. These snails are cleaned, boiled, and then cooked with a variety of flavors, particularly flaxseed.
Varieties of Tharu delicacy:
It includes Parewa sikar (pigeon meat curry), Abrak achhar (star fruit achaar), Sinki achaar (fermented radish achaar), and Machhi taruwa (fermented radish achaar).
How do Magar Community Celebrate Maghi
Magars mark this festival by inviting married daughters and their families to festivities and even worship it. On this day, foods with heat-generating properties such as yam, sel roti, sweet potato, sesame laddoos, and other delicacies are consumed. For three days during this celebration, the married daughters and their husbands visit their parents’ homes to seek blessings. In the Magar community, the archery game is played today. Melas and different parades are organized across the country.
Bull Fighting in Taruka village, Nuwakot
Bullfighting is a unique event on the first day of Magh in Nepal’s Taruka village. Many people from neighboring villages go to Nuwakot’s Taruka village to observe the magnificent bullfighting. Locals prepare and train the bulls before releasing them to fight in a plain terrain in Chandani in Taruka village as part of the yearly celebration of Maghe Sankranti. Bullfighting in Taruka is believed to have been developed for entertainment purposes by Bajhangi King Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh. This is a more than a century-old event that has been organized in several locations in Nuwakot and Dhading.
Fair at Tundikhel
Every year at the festival of Maghe Sankranti, the Tharu community organizes an open market at Tudhikhel, open grassland in the center of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. They celebrate by gathering as a family and friends, attending social gatherings called melas (fairs), dressing up in traditional Tharu attire, dining, drinking, and having a good time. Tharus and Magars who are away from their homeland and earning a living in this city can celebrate the festival at Tundikhel’s fair. It’s a nice opportunity for them to return to their roots and recall childhood memories. They can take time out of their busy schedules to attend this event.
Importance of Maghe Sankranti festival
Maghe Sankranti, observed as the beginning of a prosperous stage for harvest in Nepalese culture, and is widely celebrated throughout the country with great reverence. According to Hindu traditions, the reverence of Maghe Sankranti is also enshrined in several sacred books. The significance of Maghe Sankranti brings family and community together.
Diverse ethnic communities observe Maghe Sankranti. The delicacies prepared on this day vary from one community to the other. This also reinstalls Nepali traditional values, such as family relationships and cheerful celebrations. This festival plays a crucial role in preserving family bonds and social harmony. This day is celebrated with tremendous excitement and fervor by the people. However, due to the coronavirus epidemic, the joyous gatherings are limited to houses this year, and large gatherings are canceled. The Nepali government has advised everyone to follow the COVID-19 principles while celebrating the occasion.