Educating children about the harvest festival

Parentree-editors 2009-01-13 10:29:48

Ever wondered why children who have so naturally adopted Father’s day and Mother’s day and Valentine’s day are so unenthusiastic about a day as auspicious as the Makar Sankranti. It is possibily because neither have we explained the relevance of the day in the context of their day to day life, nor have we adapted the festivities to appeal to their sense of fun. Where ever there are festivities and rituals that the kids can relate to, they are very forthcoming in their participation. Even understanding the relevance of a custom or ritual helps the child accept it and adopt it better.

If our children get more excited about Valentine’s day and treat it as a day that celebrates love, while they are oblivious to the concept of Makar Sankrant, which embodies the highest principle of Oneness and stands for purity, kindness and love, it is really our fault. While greeting card companies may be responsible for hyping the others, we may not be making adequate efforts to explain the significance of something that is a part of our culture. Unlike other Indian festivals, the Makar Sakranti falls on the same English calendar date every year, so it is easier for kids to remember this vis–a-vis the other  festivals which have dates based on the lunar calendar.

What is Sankranti

Sankranti means to go from one place to another place (to change direction). It also means one meets another. The time when the Sun changes direction from one constellation (of the zodiac) to another is known as Sankranti. Since there are twelve zodiacs there are twelve Sankrantis.

The Sun is the most important and the most prominent of our stars and the undisputed lord of our planetary system. The sun is the inexhaustible storehouse and the source of light and energy. Without sunlight creatures and vegetation would cease to exist. People will lose their life sustaining vitality. Lack of nourishing substances would lead to the end of creation. This is why the sun’s existence, movements and positions in the cosmos are so important and that is why the sun earns our respect, admiration and reverence.

Transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn, during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is known as Makar Sankranti, and is one of the most important sankrantis.

The difference in our lives owing to this transition is perceptible. For the people of the northern hemisphere (which includes India), the northward path of the sun marks the period when the sun is getting closer and closer to them, when the days are getting longer, and it is becoming warmer and warmer. From Makar Sankranti onwards when the sun is travelling northwards. Climate and atmosphere improve. In Hindu mythology, it is supposed to be the beginning of the day of the Devatas and heralds the end of the night of the Asuras.

Making Makar Sankranti relevant to children

Makar Sakranti is celebrated differently not only in different parts of the country, but also in other regions of South East Asia with some variations.

We may already be celebrating this day in a certain way, but sometimes incorporating a ritual from another region can add some zing to our own celebration, thereby increasing the excitement quotient of the festival in our own household. Just like the Pasta counter has become a regular fare at traditional North Indian Weddings and the Christmas tree a proud presence in non Christian homes, adding a child friendly ritual can spice up your own celebration of the Makar Sakranti. The important thing to remember is that the occasion should be celebrated for its spirit and one would rather ensure continuity to the celebration of the festival by innovating and adding on, than lose out by refusing to dilute its customary methods and rituals.

Whichever part of the country it may be celebrated in, the essential purpose is the expansion of love in the human being’s heart. To grow in consciousness to the level of the Sun, who embodies all that is good and all that is giving and selfless.

  • Whether you are celebrating Lohri in Punjab or Khichdi Sakranti in UP or Uttaryan in Gujarat or Pongal in the South, remember to make giving to the needy an essential part of the celebration. Set aside a certain budget and involve your child in deciding about a charitable activity that you shall undertake with that. The activity can range from feeding sweetmeats to the children at nearby orphanage to distribution of clothes at a local shelter. Carrying forward the Gujarati Pundits’ tradition of giving scholarships for higher studies to students of astrology and philosophy, begin your own family’s scholarship for the education of a needy and meritorious kid of a relative or associate. Use the day as an occasion to contemplate buying an education policy for your own child
  • There is a story related to Makar Sakranti about Bhagirath, the great sage who with great effort and determination brought down the Ganges for the redemption of his cursed ancestors. It was on this day that the sage did tarpan with the Ganges water and liberated his forefathers from their curse. The moral of the story is to nurture the roots of the family tree for the sake of having a flowering tree in the present. In our current times we can involve our children in paying special attention to the needs of their grand parents and other older people. Adding a trip to an old age home armed with goodies as part of the celebration would probably teach them the essence of the concept of nurturing our roots and ancestors better than just offering tarpan early in the morning.
  • The worship of the Sun is a very important part of Makar Sankranti celebration. It is a great opportunity to imprint the importance of solar energy, make children(and ourselves) conscious of the many things that we take for granted, the inexhaustible, non polluting, solar power being one.
  • This may be a great day to teach the child Surya Namaskar. If you have used it as an opportunity to help the child appreciate the sun and its features, emphasise the need for a healthy body and mind to be able to pursue the goal of a fulfilling life. If not everyday, at least every Sunday can be made into the Surya namaskar day.
  • Weed out all the unnecessary and useless stuff that has piled up in your house. New beginnings imply letting go of old things. Give away items that you don’t use.  Be inspired to let go of ill feelings and bad memories. As the Sun journey’s northwards, may your consciousness too rise higher and higher. Use it as an opportunity to teach children all about forgiving and starting afresh.
  • Children may not understand or participate in the ritualistic puja that you may perform in the house. If they are happily a part of it fine, if not, spend some time with them separately, either silently meditating and doing deep breathing or chant the Gayatri mantra with them for some time.
  • If making til laddus is part of your preparation, you could involve your kids in the process as children find rolling balls very exciting. In fact for vegetarians til (sesame) is the most potent source of calcium. It is so versatile a culinary ingredient that it can add value to dishes of almost any kind of cuisine. Reiterate your commitment to this action backed food source and use it more and more in your cooking.
  • If the children appreciate the taste of the jaggery sweetmeats that you cook for this day, begin substituting refined sugars with the same for healthier sweets wherever possible.
  • Flying kites can become part of your celebrations, even if you do not hail from Gujarat. A non expensive, colourful, boisterous and inclusive sport which can foster healthy competition, plus the added incentive of using it as a metaphor for raised aspirations, not to mention an exciting  creative venture of even making your own kites…way to go!
  • For those who already have the bonfire as part of their celebration, add more frolic to the process by roasting potatoes and sweet potatoes in the fire besides the usual fare of peanuts, pop corn and revadi(sesame candy). In Tamilnadu, many bonfires are lit to get rid of old stuff (Bhogi). Whether you are burning waste or potatoes, you may wany to consider whether you should pollute the atmosphere. Maybe you can do something symbolic rather than a huge fire.
  • In Punjab it used to be customary for children to go from house to house singing traditional songs (desi Rap) and collecting money for the celebrations for Lohri. The system was almost like a combination of Christmas carols and Halloween rolled into one. If you can get the words of the exciting ‘Hulle re mayian hulle’ from an older relative, great! Otherwise a group of kids can create their own funny verse, asking for a donation to bring goodies for the celebration. Creative writing, rapping and celebration, all rolled into one!
  • The cow is worshipped as part of the Pongal celebrations. Use this opportunity to impart information on issues of animal rights and issues of ecological balance. Demonstrate to your children how the ancients have always understood and respected the environment and interconnectedness of all life forms. Next time you quote something from the scriptures, they shall not dismiss it without careful consideration.
  • The concept of a Harvest Festival was very relevant to the agrarian economy. In the rural areas it still continues to have great significance. If educating your children about village life is ever on your agenda, this may be the right time to venture into it. This is one of the most colourful periods and non boring time in the villages. You could of course even have a Makar Sankranti function in your apartment complex, which has a village mela theme. Dress up the kids in fancy dress as the farmers, give them lots of games to play, they’ll sure remember this day better than any other!

Now that we look at it in detail, It is amazing how many different valuable principles are embedded in the harvest festival.

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