India is an agrarian economy and majority of its population depends on agriculture for a living and the first yield of their new crop is a jovial time for them as they celebrate and thank the gods for the harvest. Harvest festivals celebrate mother nature and people show gratitude for the bountiful harvest. Different regions celebrate different harvest festivals due to the diversity in climate and staple crop of a region. Let’s take a look at some of the major harvest festivals in India.
1. Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti is the time of the year when hundreds of kites can be seen flying in the sky. It is one of the most colourful harvest festivals in India. Celebrated on 14th January, it is associated with several different festivities named as Uttarayan, Lohri, Pongal etc.
The transition of the sun from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere signifies the beginning of the new phase. People plunge into holy waters to thank the Sun God for the harvest. Lighting bonfire, carnivals, songs, dances, kite flying, and rallies are some of the forms of celebration of this festival.
If Bhangra is your thing, then Baisakhi is your festival. Baisakhi is a grand festival of Punjab which marks the beginning of new spring. It marks the coronation of Shri Guru Gobind Singh and the birth of Khalsa Panth laid by him. It is also observed as the Sikh New Year.
People celebrate to thank God for a good harvest and pray for future prosperity. They visit Gurudwaras, wear colourful dresses, do the Bhangra and Gidda dance to the beats of Dhol. Baisakhi Processions accompanied by music, singing and chanting of scriptures and hymns are a vital part of this festival. Fairs are also organized where acrobatics, wrestling and music performances can be seen.
Lohri is a joyous festival of northern India to mark the end of winters. It involves lighting a holy bonfire and gather around it to offer grains and nuts to express the gratitude towards God for a successful harvest.
It is celebrated with the beating of Dhol and singing of traditional Lohri songs in praise of Dulha Batti (Punjab’s own Robinhood). Children go to different houses to collect Lohri- jaggery, money etc.
4. Basant Panchami
It is a Hindu spring festival dedicated to the Goddess Saraswati. Saraswati Puja takes place on a giant level in the states of Bihar, West Bengal, Assam etc. The yellow colour is of special significance on this day. Most of the people wear yellow colour attires and eat yellow-coloured whereas jasmine garlands are worn by people in Rajasthan.
The story states that this day is also associated with Kamadeva who shot an arrow of flowers at Lord Shiva to invoke his interest in Goddess Parvati upon her request; therefore Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are also worshipped on this day. Sikhs also celebrate this festival by organizing Langars.
5. Ladakh Harvest Festival
Who doesn’t know about the beauty of Ladakh valley but do you know Ladakh looks astoundingly beautiful, bright and colourful on Ladakh Harvest Festival as monasteries and stupas are decorated and are visited by the monks and devotees on a large scale on this day.
Ladakh Harvest Festival is a famous harvest festival celebrated in the entire region of Zanskar valley and Ladakh to commemorate Buddha and his teachings. The pilgrimage to Thangka of Kyabje Gombo is made on this occasion.
The major festival of God’s own country-Kerala, Onam is celebrated for around ten days during the Malayalam month of Chingam (August – September). It marks the commemoration of the ‘Vamana’, the avatar of Vishnu. It is celebrated with grandeur to mark the harvest of rice and rain flowers in Kerala and is celebrated across the world by Malayalee community.
People decorate their homes with floral rangoli called Pookalam and wear traditional clothes. Onasadya is the traditional feast enjoyed on this festival which includes 29 varieties of dishes served on a banana leaf. It is the time of the year when the Vallamkali event takes place showcasing the paddled boat and snake boat race. Tiger dance is also a major attraction of this occasion.
Pongal or Tai Pongal is a thanksgiving celebration across Tamil Nadu where people express their deep gratitude to Mother Nature for the produce of the year and is celebrated for 4 days. The first day of the festival called Bhogi, people discard their old possessions and buy new ones. The main event of the festival is Thai Pongal on which homes are decorated with mango and banana leaves. Pongal rice dish that’s prepared with milk, jaggery and other ingredients is cooked and elders offer a gift to the young.
It is followed by Mattu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal where women offer prayers for the wellbeing of their brothers. Traditional dances and Jallikattu festival are organized where villagers try to take the money tied on the horns of the bulls.
Ugadi is a regional New Year celebration for people of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It is believed to be auspicious for starting new ventures. On this day, people decorate their homes with flowers and mango leaves, make offerings to the God, prepare special dishes, participate in the traditional dances and perform Ugadi puja.
9. Gudi Padwa
Gudi Padwa is a prominent harvest festival marking the beginning of New Year for Hindu-Marathi’s is celebrated with great zeal across Maharashtra. People make colorful rangoli at the entrance of their homes and decorate it with flowers and a handmade doll. Folks meet and wish each other by feeding a small amount of jaggery. Women cook sweets like Puran Poli, Shrikhand, and Sunth Paak.
Bihu is the national festival of Assam celebrated three times in the year, Magh in January, Bohaag in April and Kaati in October. Bohag Bihu is the major among the other and is celebrated as the Assamese New Year in mid-April. It signifies the end of the harvesting season where they thank their supreme God, Brai Shibrai, locally known as Father Shibrai.
Celebrations start with Uruka, a traditional feast and they authentic delicacies such as pithas (sweet rice cake), chira (rice flakes) etc. Women wear stunning mukhlas and sing “Bihugeets” and enjoy the traditional dance form “MukoliBihu”. Bullfights are also organized during Bihu which is a major attraction of this festival.
You should consider attending some of these harvest festivals in India if you wish to experience the diversity, culture and heritage of the country.