“Ellu bella thindu, Olle Maathadu” (Eat sesame seeds and speak only good) is what people tell you as they greet you with a helping of the ellu-bella mixture on the day of Sankranti, the harvest festival (or in ordinary parlance, ellu beero habba – the festival of gifting sesame seeds)!
Makara Sankranti marks the commencement of the sun’s journey to the Northern Hemisphere (Makara raashi), signifying the onset of Uttarayana Punyakala, and is a day of celebration all over the country. Tarpana Vidhi is also performed on this day.
Traditionally, this period is considered an auspicious time as the veteran Bhishma of Mahabharata chose to die during this period. Bhishma fell to the arrows of Arjuna. With his boon to choose the time of his death, he waited on a bed of arrows to depart from this world only during this period. It is believed that those who die in this period have no rebirth.
Women and girl children begin preparations much ahead of the festival. These involve making Sakkare Acchu (sugar moulds) and preparing the Ellu-bella mix. For the sugar moulds, the women use rectangular blocks of wood. These come in various shapes and designs – images of gods and goddessess, a plantain bunch, the Tulasi “Katte” (small platform/ pot) even an old fashioned gramophone! Elderly ladies prepare the syrup to the right consistency, purifying it with dash of milk, add colour – the moulds are left soaking in water; the syrup is poured into holes, with both halves of moulds pressed together, making sure the syrup has reached every corner and curve inside and after a sometime, one of it is very gently removed the still soft image icon of sugar, is left to harden.
To prepare Ellu-Bella, roasted groundnuts, jaggery, tiny coconut pieces are kept in the sun to dry in trays. This procedure is carried out for a few days before finally mixing them with sesame seeds. When I was a kid, my mother or my grandma always used to complain while bringing the trays inside everyday that the contents have reduced by half!
Sankranthi is a time to celebrate “togethemess” and as in most folk festivals the season of harvest finds expression in celebrations. It is a day of goodwill and friendship.