Equinoxes are important days in any calendar. These are the days where the sun remains directly overhead at noon. Every year has two equinoxes, the Spring Equinox and the Autumn Equinox. The Odia New Year starts at the Spring Equinox, 14th of April and the first day of Baisakh month according to the lunar calendar. We Odia celebrate this day as Pana Sankranti or Maha Vishubha Sankranti.
We call this day as Pana Sankranti because a special pana or drink is prepared on this day to welcome the oncoming summer. This drink uses chatua also called sattu (roasted gram flour), chenna (paneer), fruits, bela (wood apple) pulp, grated coconut, yogurt, ginger and is sweetened using jaggery. This drink is supposed to have cooling properties that soothe the stomach during the hot summer months.
There are many traditions linked to this day for us. The one universal tradition we follow on this day is watering the tulsi (holy basil) plant that has been planted in the courtyard of many of our homes. A scaffold is constructed of branches over the tulsi plant and shade is provided using leaves from the branches. A small earthenware pot with a hole underneath is suspended over the plant and a bamboo sliver guides the water droplets seeping out of the hole onto the tulsi leaves. This pot is called Basundhara Theki. The pot is refilled with water or pana the entire month.
Many call the day Vishubha Sankranti as Vishubha Rekha refers to the Equatorial Line and on Mesha Sankranti or the Spring Equinox the length of days and nights is the same. After this day the sun moves northwards from the equator. As our country is north of the equator, we count this day as the start of a new year.
Different parts of Odisha have different traditions attached to this day. In nearby Khurda and the rest of Southern Odisha (specially Ganjam), a traditional dance ceremony called Danda Nata is performed in March-April for a month long festival. Vishubha Sankranti marks the last day of the celebration. It’s an old tradition for devotees of Lord Shiva and Goddess Kali that has continued from the ancient Kalinga empire.
This day is also known as Jala Sankranti. According to the Mahabharata, after the titular war, the grandfather of both Kauravas and Pandavas, Bhishma lay dying on the battlefield on a bed of arrows. He had a boon of ichhamrityu (to die only if he wishes to) and he felt thirsty. There was no water anywhere on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, so Arjuna pierced the ground with his powerful bow. The water came out as a stream and quenched Bhishma‘s thirst. He then conferred to Yudhisthira that on this day, if someone offered water to thirsty people, not only will they be free of sin but their ancestors as well as the Gods in Heaven will be pleased with them. This is why people offer water even to strangers on the street on this day.
This day is also celebrated as the birthday of Lord Hanuman in the form of Hanuman Jayanti. The temples of Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti are also filled with devotees on this day. In short Pana Sankranti has something for everybody.
We had a lot of fun researching this topic as this one day means different things of different people. However we can all agree that a day celebrating altruistic acts by offering water to the thirsty is very good. These small acts of kindness to strangers are the little things that make our culture great and our ancestors proud.
Please keep up the good work and keep on reading. We have more in store for you in the coming months.