Nepal, a land of geographical contrast, incredible cultural diversity and scenic grandeur, never runs out of celebrations and festivities . Nepal has been home to diversified settlements in terms of ethnicity, religion, dialect and culture. The multi-lingual and multi -racial country Nepal has its own world, a world full of colorful vibrant festivals. One of the major festival of Nepal, Maghi Festival or Maghe Sankranti.
Maghe Shankranti falls on the month of Magh, mid of January in Gregorian calendar. It is the first day of month of magh. According to Hindu Lunar calendar the Sun travels northwards to Makar Rashi (Capricorn). Magh comes with an opening of new festivals and ceremonies. Makar Sankranti also marks halfway to the end of winter in Nepal.
This year Makar Sangranti falls on 15th of Janaury. In Nepali Calendar Maghi is always the first day of Magh. It is considered the coldest day of the year, it marks the coming of warmer weather and better days of health and fortune.
Hindus in Nepal, India and Sikkim also observe this day as ‘Makar Sankranti‘ as it marks the sun’s journey northwards. From today, the day becomes longer than the night.
In addition to holy bathing and worship of shrines, certain auspicious foods like till laddoos (seasame seeds ball cakes), chaku(molasys), ghee (clarified butter), sweet potatoes, khichari (mixture of rice and lentils) and green leaf spinach are taken on this day. Families come together and share these delights. Married daughters and families are invited to parental homes for festivities and blessings. Yet another occasion to renew family ties. Many homes have religious ceremonies (pujas) conducted by priests with chanting from holy books, for which they receive alms.
How do we celebrate Makar Sangranti
We take holly bath known as Makar Snan in Holly Rivers. The bath is made generally in tribunals (Triveni – the place where three rivers meet). Shankhamol, the bank of Bagmati river in Patan, Dolalghat, Baraha Kshetra, Ridi, The Sachi Tirtha at Trivenighat (Panauti) and other rivers are famous for Makar bath.
Fairs are held at the bank of rivers in certain places. Kali Gandaki and Trishuli rivers at Dev Ghat (near Narayangath) in Tanahu are famous for such a fair. The Kankai River in Jhapa is very famous for holly dip for Makar Snan. People even from India come to Devghat and the Kankai river to take Holly bath during Maghe Sangranti.
There is a tradition to worship Ajima mata and Rato Machendranath after the bath.
What do we eat in Maghe Sankranti
Makar Shankranti or Maghe Shankranti reminds us of some delicious food. Till ko laddu (Brown Sesame seed Fudge), Chakku (Molasys), Ghee (Clarified Butter), Tilauri. Spinich and Yam’s curry is cooked as Maghe Shankranti’s special food. A special type of Spinich called Patne Palungo specially grown in Nepal and yam (yam is Tarual in Nepali) is regarded as very important and special food of Maghe Shankranti.
People of Newari community massage their body and head with Sesame oil. Newar calls Maghe Sangranti Ghyo Chaku Sanun.
Newars’ of Kathmandu valley also call it ‘Ghyo-Chaku Sanun’ as the day is celebrated by eating ghee and chaku.
The belief goes that eating such items as ghee and Chaku, sesame seed candy, vegetables and yam, and giving them away in charity on this day after taking a holy dip helps one become healthier.
Delicacies like Till ko laddu (Brown Sesame seed Fudge), Chakku (Molasys), Ghee (Clarified Butter), Tilauri, Spinach and Yam’s curry are served as Maghe Shankranti’s special food. A special type of Spinach called Patne Palungo specially grown in Nepal and yam (yam is Tarual in Nepali) are regarded as special dishes of Maghe Shankranti.
People of Newari community massage their body and head with Sesame oil. Maghe Sangranti is also referred to as ‘Ghyo Chaku Sanun’ by the newar community.
It is believed that massaging the body with Sesame oil and eating these food items i.e ghiu Chaku, Til ko Laddoo, Spinich and yam helps us become healthier and warmer during the cold weather. Some people call Maghe Sangranti ghiu chaku tarul day.
Stories behind Maghe Sankranti
Maghe Shankranti has its legend. A Merchant of Bhadgaun (now Baktapur) was doing a good business. He had good sale of sesame, but the stock never ran out. He searched for the clue. Cleaning the stock pile he found the Idol of Lord Vishnu down beneath the seeds. Then after the Idol is being worshipped as Til Madhav Idol. It is believed worshipping the idol would bring supply of food, prosperity and wealth to Bhakatapur.
It is believed that Bhismapitamaha. He was the son of river Ganga and king Santanu in the Epic Mahabharata. He had control (Ikcha Mitru) in his death. (Mahabharat is the Hindu great epic, and world’s biggest epic ever written). This is the day when Bhisma was lying in the bed of arrows all hit by Arjun and discovered the words of wisdom of life and death.
How do Tharu Community Celebrate Maghi
Maghe Shankranti is the biggest festival of the Tharu community. They call it Maghi. All the family members come together and have a big feast for this festival. They have grand celebration of Maghi starting from the final week of the month of Paush to 3 of Magh.
Tharus mark this festival as end of winter and beginning of summer. During the festival, Bhalmansa (judge giving justice), Guruwa (a person responsible for treating people) and Chiragi (guard) is selected. Bhalmansa is also called Mahato, Mahakama and Wadghar. The name of Bhalmansa is named differently in different places. Since a new individual is selected for handing over the responsibility of the village, this tradition is called Khojini and Bojhini.
Tharus of Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke, Bardiya and Dang districts celebrate Maghi as the New Year. Traditionally, Tharus make plans for the entire year during Maghi. The responsibility of each member of the family is also assigned. Moreover, while carrying out responsibilities, if any member of the family makes a mistake, the case is discussed during this festival. But discussions on such mistakes cannot take place before the festival. Even if they are not satisfied with the performance of the individual, s/he has to carry out the duties for one year.
Tharus seem busy purchasing pigs, boars, ducks and hens to celebrate Maghi. They make liquor at home for this occasion.
Maghi festival has been recognized as a national festival by Nepal government since the last eight years. . Maghi Festival holds great essence to the Tharu community and they observe it for 3 days.
Typical Tharu dances like Sakhiya, Hridangwa, Ghumra, Jhumra, Maghauta, Jharra and Lathwa are the highlights of the event. Apart from all the merrymaking and celebrations, Maghi is a festival of rekindling dead ties and resolving out differences. An array of Tharu cuisines such as crab pickle, fish, teel ko laddu (sesame seed ball), pork curry and a variety of bread like Bagiya, Dhikri and Jharra Roti are served. Maghi holds special importance to married women too because the festival has a special ritual of providing them with gifts by their parents and brothers called “nisrau”, a nice package consisting of salt, rice and other grocery items.
Maghi Sankranti, is yet another occasion which renews the faith of Nepalese people in the heavenly powers.