How PANA SANKRANTI is celebrated in Odisha

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Pana Sankranti is an important day in Odisha. As per solar method, Surya (Sun) transits to Mesha rashi (constellation Aries) a on this day and is over Visubha rekha (Equator). The day heralds the solar month of Mesha per Hindu calendar. Hence, the day is also known as Mesha sankranti, Maha vishubha sankranti and Meru sankranti. Odiyas observe beginning of their New Year on this day because of its astronomical significance. It also marks the onset of ensuing summer season.

On this day, religious people get up early in the morning and take sankranti buda (bath) in nearby rivers/ponds. Standing in knee deep water they worship Surya reciting Gayatri mantra. Some perform homa (worship before fire). They spend the day visiting temples Many keep upabasha (fast) while others take simple vegetarian food.

As said before, it marks the onset of summer in the region rendering the people thirsty. Therefore, benevolent people offer pana (cold sweetened water to the thirsty. It is also served to friends and relatives as a gesture of goodwill. Though the pana is supposed to be sweetened water, it is usually made of pulp of bela (wood apple), nadia kora (coconut gratings) chena (cottage cheese), etc. seasoned with ginger and black pepper. Because of offering of pana on this day, the sankranti is commonly known as Pana sankranti.

Panna

Another feature of Odiya celebration is the worship of plants in general and tulashi in particular.

It is needless to say that in every Odia Bela pana - a sweet drink served on this occasion. Every home has a tulashi plant in tulashi chaunras (a small temple shaped flower pot) in the front courtyard. Odiyas consider it as Maa Brundabati or Tulashi personified. After visiting temples, they worship the Tulashi in Chaunra.

In a symbolic gesture to provide relief to tulashi plant from the heat of the summer, a chhamundia (shed of leaves) is erected over the chounra to provide shade to the plant. A small earthen pitcher with a hole at the bottom and filled with water or pana is hung over it. The hole allows the mixture to flow down drop by drop over the plant. The theki is refilled with water or pana every day during the entire month

Tulashi plant

In the Bhaviswa purana, the day is described as Jala sankranti. It is mentioned that during the legendary Mahabharata war, when Bhishma pitamaha (grand sire) was lying on the sara sajjya (bed of arrows) for eighteen days being grievously hurt and waiting for the auspicious period of uttarayana yatra of Surya to leave the mortal world, he felt thirsty and asked for water.  As there was no water around the battlefield, Arjuna, shot an arrow deep into the ground from his powerful bow and water came out as a geyser. With it Bhishma pitamaha quenched his thrust. That day was Mesha sankranti. Out of contentment, he blessed the Pandavas mentioning that those who would offer water to the thirsty on this day would not only be freed of their sins but also would free their pitru purushas of their sins. This description in the Holy Scriptures is taken with reverence and people offer cold sweet water or pana to the thirsty ones.

In many homes, traditional Odiya dishes, pithas are prepared and shared with friends and family members. In this way the day is spent enjoying and merrymaking.

A few festivals are associated with this sankranti.

The famous fortnight long Danda or Jhamu yatra observed in southern Odisha ends on this day. Devotees observing it walk on red hot ember as a penance. So great is their faith that their feet do not suffer from burn injuries. Many people gather to witness this.

In northern part of the state, Tribal people observe it as Meru yatra where in devotees pierce their body parts with sharp iron rods and move red hot ember as a penance. On this day, the fisherman community all over the state end their Chaiti festival. Hanuman Jayanti (birthday of Hanuman) is also observed on this day and temples are full of devotees. The tribals spend the day with great festivities, feasting drinking and dancing.

Author is retired colonel from the Indian Army.

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