Festive spirit grips India on Makar Sankranti, harvest

People in most parts of the country were under the grip of festivity today with Makar Sankranti being celebrated in north and eastern states and those in Assam and Tamil Nadu soaking in harvest festivals Magh Bihu and Pongal.

Lakhs of devotees took holy dip in Gangasagar in West Bengal, Sangam in Allahabad -- the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical river Saraswati, and other rivers and water bodies on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, braving biting cold.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, many chief ministers and political leaders greeted the nation on harvest festivals.

"On the special occasion of Magh Bihu, my greetings to the people of Assam," he said. "Uttarayan greetings to the people of Gujarat," Modi said in another tweet. He tweeted the messages in local languages also.

In Tamil Nadu, decorated earthen pots brimming with boiling rice, beating of drums and offering of sugarcane pieces to the Sun God at streets and temples marked the harvest festival of Pongal.

However, protests over banning of bull-taming sport Jallikattu dampened the festive spirit in Madurai and the drought situation in Cauvery delta districts affected the celebratory mood there.

Streets in both rural and urban areas of the state were decked up with designs made of flour (called 'Kolam' in Tamil). "Samathuva Pongal" (Egalitarian, community Pongal) was celebrated in several towns by local people.

State government-organised Pongal fests were also held in places including Nilgiris where several foreign tourists participated in the celebrations.

Chief Minister O Panneerselvam celebrated Pongal and his 66th birthday today in his native Periakulam in Theni district. DMK working president M K Stalin celebrated Pongal at his residence in Chennai.

People in Assam also celebrated harvest festival Magh Bihu with traditional fervour.

In Kerala, thousands of devotees offered worship at the famous Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala on the auspicious occasion of Makaravilakku, marking the culmination of the over two-month-long pilgrimage.

The holy hill of Sabarimala, atop which the Ayyappa temple is located, reverberated with chants of "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa" when the portals of the shrine was opened for "deeparadhana" (arti) in the evening.

Braving severe cold and walking several miles, thousands of devotees took a holy dip in confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical river Saraswati on the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti amidst tight security that is in place in view of the ongoing annual religious congregation of Magh Mela.

Stalls selling items made of "til" (sesame) and jaggery were doing brisk business as consumption of these on this day, when "Surya" (the Sun) is said to enter "Makar Rashi" (Capricorn), is believed to bring fortune.
Over nine lakh pilgrims took a holy dip at the Gangasagar

today on the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti and offered prayers at Kapil Muni Ashram amidst tight security that is in place in view of the Gangasagar Mela, officials said.

Pilgrims started taking a holy dip from 2:52 AM onwards and the auspicious time for the dip will be over after 2:15 AM tomorrow.

One elderly pilgrim became ill and efforts were on to transfer him to Kolkata by a helicopter.

The state and South 24-Parganas district administration have taken a number of measures to avoid any untoward incident and deployed 9,000 policemen and volunteers to provide assistance to the pilgrims, officials said. A drone and 20 vessels including several from the Coast Guard were being used for surveillance.

Makar Sankranti was celebrated with fanfare and gaiety across Rajasthan with people taking holy dips and engaging themselves in religious activities while youths and children were seen enjoying kite flying.

Colourful kites dotted the skyline in Jaipur where children went atop the houses to fly kites with the break of the dawn.

Decorated make-shift walls with different types of kites in all sizes were a common sight in the markets.

Devotees offered prayers to the sun and took holy dip in Galta tirth and offered prayers.

Meanwhile, 21 people were injured in kite-flying related incidents in Jaipur.