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Modi greets nation on harvest festivals; India marks Pongal, Makar Sankranti

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday extended greetings to people of various communities as they celebrate harvest festivals, and said diversity is India’s greatest strength.

Modi in a series of tweets greeted people on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Magh Bihu and Uttarayan.

“Today (January 14) people across India are celebrating various festivals. My greetings to everyone celebrating these auspicious festivals,” Modi tweeted.

“May these festivals bring abundance of happiness and prosperity in the lives of our hardworking farmers,” Modi said.

“These and many other festivals celebrated across India that add great colour and happiness in our lives. This diversity is India’s greatest strength.”

Modi also greeted people on the occasion of Makar Sankranti and wished that this day bring joy and prosperity in everyone’s lives.

He wished Tamil people a happy and blessed Pongal, greeted Gujaratis for Uttarayan and people of Assam on the occasion of Magh Bihu.
Over a million take holy dip at Ganga Sagar on Makar Sankranti

Sagar Island (West Bengal): Over a million pilgrims from across India and abroad took holy dip in the river Ganges on Saturday braving the icy cold water and chilly winds, at the annual Ganga Sagar Fair here on Makar Sankranti.

“Around 10-12 lakh pilgrims have bathed so far since the morning. More people are coming for the holy dip,” West Bengal Sundarban Development Minister Manturam Pakhira told IANS.

“We are expecting a total turnout of over 15 lakhs,” said Panchayat and Public Health Engineering Minister Subrata Mukherjee.

About 150 km from Kolkata in South 24 Parganas district, this island is considered auspicious by the Hindus, who gather here at this time of the year to take a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal and pray by offering coconut at the Kapil Muni temple.

The Ganga Sagar Mela is considered as the second largest assembly of people after the quadrennial Kumbha Mela (fair). The devout believe that a dip in the sacred water at this time washes off sins of a lifetime.

According to the local administration and organisers, this time around the turnout is relatively higher.

“The attendance is relatively higher this year as a lot of fairs that are otherwise arranged at this time of the year could not be properly organised amid the cash crisis.

“The administration has taken necessary measures to tackle the large crowd,” Mukherjee said.

“We have built 20,000 stationary toilets with proper markings at the Mela premises, 5,000 more than 2016 and arranged one volunteer for every 10 toilets to ensure the pilgrims use them properly,” he added.

On the second coldest day of the season in West Bengal, the huge number of pilgrims, both young and the old and representing all sections of the society, gathered at the riverbank of Sagar Island to take the holy dip. The enthusiasm appeared infectious.

“We come here every year with all the family members. Who wants to let go of the chance to witness such a spectacle,” said veteran Anup Maiti of Nadia district, who came to bathe here with three generations of his family.

Additional security measures have been taken by the district administration to avoid any untoward incident.

“The situation in the fair is absolutely smooth. We have installed almost 200 CCTV cameras at the ‘mela-ground’ and increased the number of life saving vessels in the river.

“People are also deployed to remove the flowers, food packets and plastic waste from the premises to keep the fair clean,” South 24 Parganas District Magistrate P.B. Selim told IANS.
TN celebrates Pongal with traditional fervour

Chennai: Tamil Nadu on Saturday celebrated Pongal with traditional fervour with people getting up early, donning new clothes and visiting temples.

The festival of Pongal is celebrated to thank the Sun, rain and farm animals.

In the homes, the aroma of ghee-fried cashews, almonds and cardamom wafted through as the traditional dish of rice, jaggery and moong daal was made.

As the ingredients of Chakarai Pongal boiled in milk, people called out “Pongolo Pongal, Pongolo Pongal”.

As per tradition the dish is cooked under the open skies. In cities some do that even today. In majority of the homes the dish is cooked in the kitchen and the Sun god is offered the Pongal as thanks giving and eaten as ‘prasad’.

In villages the sweet pongal is still cooked on the open ground.

The mud pot or stainless steel in which the dish is cooked is decorated by tying up ginger, turmeric, sugarcane piece and banana around the neck.

It is made at an auspicious time and in some homes conches are blown prior to the formal offering.

People exchanged greetings and Chakarai Pongal with their neighbours.

The Pongal festivities take place for over four days, the first day being Bhogi, which was on Friday. On this day people burn their old clothes, mats and other items. New paints are applied on the houses.

The second day is the main Pongal festival celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month Thai, that is on Saturday.

The third day is the Mattu Pongal when bulls and cows are bathed and their horns painted and worshipped as they play an important role in farms.

Women feed the birds with coloured rice and pray for the welfare of their brothers.

The fourth day is the Kannum Pongal — the day to go out and meet relatives and friends, and go sight seeing.

Tamil Nadu Governor C.H. Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and other leaders extended Pongal greetings to the people.

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