It’s the 14th of January, and as was the case in 2018, it will be celebrated as Sankranti or Pongal across India. This is a farmers’ festival, celebrated by farming communities all over the subcontinent. While the names of festivals may vary from one state to another, the celebrations share a degree of commonality, reminding one of the intimate connection between nature and human beings. This is a time to thank the Sun and the Earth for their generosity, to celebrate the role of livestock in agriculture, and to share the bounty of the harvest with friends and family. Among the Telugus, it is a time to return to their natal villages, reliving, if only for brief and fleeting moments, a way of life that is disappearing from cities and towns. My fondest memories of Sankranti are of Bhogi, when bonfires of twisted brushwood, withered palm leaves, and gnarled logs would blaze, crackle and sizzle through the night, at every village corner. People would gather to gossip and joke, with the occasional break for snacks and sweets, smuggled out of jars in the kitchen cabinets. As a child, this was all one wanted to do – staying awake through the night, taking in the warmth of the Bhogi Mantalu (i.e. Bhogi Fire), and listening to stories of wild cats that kidnapped little boys, and witches that waylaid travellers. Back then there were no smartphones to stream movies, or tablets to read best-sellers. But there were people who could tell tales one would never forget, and regale a whole crowd for hours on end. Seeing a Bhogi bonfire brings all those memories rushing back. Wishing everyone a very Happy Sankranti, and a year full of amazing stories!
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a Bhogi bonfire. It was uploaded by YVS Reddy of Nellore, Andhra Pradesh. The bonfires mark the beginning of Sankranti celebrations among the Telugu people of South India.