Festive wishes: Makar Sankranti- Starting on a “Sweet note”

A new year always starts on a sweet note. Indian calendar welcomes each New Year with this auspicious festival falling on the same date on the calendar even with a change in the decades. The very scientific reason for this is that this is the only “tithi” that follows the solar calendar instead like the other festivals that follow the lunar calendar. Hence in every nuke and corner of the country, the festival is celebrated with different names and folk-stories. But the key ingredient and intention remain the same.

The Science part of the story

A deep scientific and cultural reason also exists for the gaiety and vibrancy of the festival. According to the Hindu astronomy, on Makar Sankranti, the Sun enters the Makara Rashi (Capricorn). On Makar Sankranti day, 14th January, the sun no longer moves southward and begins its northward journey (Uttarayan). Makar Sankranti marks the end of a long winter with the return of the sun to the Northern Hemisphere and hence the name Uttarayan. After this day the days start becoming longer and warmer, and thus the chill of winter declines. It signifies the end of winter and the beginning of spring when the trees start becoming green again, the flowers bloom and the weather becomes pleasant.

Diversity & cultural together

Sankranti represents the beginning of the farming season and people across the country rejoice, and so celebrated universally across the country as in Maharastra called as “ Makar Sankranti”, in Uttar Pradesh, Sankrant is called ‘Khichiri’, Tamil Nadu its the “Pongal”, Bengal it’s called Makar/Til Sankranti, in Gujrat the festival of “Kite flying”, in Punjab signified as “Lohri”, and in other parts of the country, it gets its own significance and name. But what this festival helps is the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste, and community to show the real essence of unity in diversity!!!

The soul of the festival

The names might differ due to diversity of languages and location, but the significance and the presence of “sesame seeds/til seeds” and its sweetness remains the same. Sesame or til seeds holds special significance during Makar Sankranti. It is the grain par excellence and is eaten and given away in daan on this day. According to Hindu mythology, the god Yama blessed the sesame seed and hence they are regarded as the symbols of immortality. So the person who consumes this tiny grain in this particular season in smaller proportions and as a simple add-on in the daily diet thus significantly remains healthy. Both black and white til seeds hold equal importance. But mostly white till seeds are consumed variedly across.

Not to ignore the nutritional and Ayurveda value of these tiny seeds. They have a number of benefits as a part of the daily diet: sesame seeds are significant sources of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, copper, zinc, fiber, thiamine, vitamin B6 and folate. Sesame oil equally works wonders and has a potential fat-burning capacity.

Sesame seeds support a healthy digestive system and colon as they are rich in fibre. They help in healthy functioning of the intestines. Rich in copper and anti-oxidants they are said to relieve pain and swelling associated with arthritis. Magnesium found in sesame gives relief against respiratory disease and asthma. Rich in zinc and calcium, it maintains bone health. Sesame seeds are high in monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, which helps in lowering the bad cholesterol and increasing the good cholesterol in the body.

Ancient insights and Ayurveda aspect to Sesame/Til seeds

Sesame seed is one of the most widely used Ayurveda medicines. From the Ayurveda perspective, sesame seed is sweet, bitter, pungent and astringent in taste. They absorb and enter the body channels very quickly. They are heavy (guru), unctuous (snigdha), deep penetrating (sukshma), have a hot potency (ushna virya) with a sweet post-digestive effect (madhur vipaka). In this Ritu commonly known as shishir, the combination of sesame and jaggery melts gives warmth and liquifies the Kapha dosha which helps to detox Kapha in the next Ritu of Vasant or spring. Popularly known as ‘tila’ in Ayurveda, the oil is extracted by pressing natural sesame seeds and is used in Ayurveda techniques in multiple ways. Sesame oil derived from the raw Indian sesame seeds is a traditional oil of choice for Abhyanga which is a form of daily Ayurveda self-massage. Not only is it a rich source of linolenic acid but also has antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is versatile oil according to Ayurveda and proves excellent when used for massage.

Indian sesame seeds are one of the ancient condiments that escort health & Ayurveda benefits in umpteen ways. Sesame oil is truly a gift from nature to us and its benefits cannot be denied. Ayurveda uses the benefits in oil and seeds equally and is widely used in daily intake, external and internal use.

Here is some mouth-watering daily sesame seed recipes you won’t miss to make at home!!!

Healthy crunch salad: 

Spinach shredded, cabbage shredded, cucumber diced, carrots shredded, pomegranate kernels, lemon juice, ginger juice, rock salt, sesame oil, roasted white & black sesame seeds. Take all the veggies in a glass bowl (washed well). In a small bowl take sesame oil, add rock salt, white & black sesame seeds, lemon juice, and ginger juice. Mix well as make a quick dressing. Pour the dressings over the chopped veggies, pomegranate and give a quick stir and store in the refrigerator and remove before serving. Best goes with toasts, plain crackers.

Healthy fat-free dip: 

Sesame seeds, rock salt, honey, black pepper, roasted chana (without shells), lemon juice.

Soak the sesame seeds over-night. In a grinder add soaked sesame seeds, roasted chana, rock salt, black pepper. Add little water and grind into a smooth paste. Transfer to a glass container/serving bowl. Add lime juice, honey. Stir well. Your on the go-home made Tahini (fat-free) dip is ready. Best to go with dhirde/creeps, dosa, bhakri/ Indian roti.

Guilt-free snack bar

Till/sesame seeds, roasted chana (flour), groundnuts (roasted), walnuts (crushed), plain puffs (cereals-non flavoured/ rajgira puffs/popped rice), honey, ghee/clarified butter, cardamom seeds, nutmeg (pinch), dry ginger powder (pinch). Take a pan, dry roast till seeds, chana flour, groundnuts, and walnuts till light brown. Remove from flame. Add honey, ghee, plain puffs, cardamom, nutmeg, sunthi and mix well when hot. Now take a plate, apply little ghee, add the hot mix and flatten well into a thin sheet. Cut into small flat pieces and let cool. Once cooled store in glass/air-tight jar. A healthy on the go-snack bar is ready.

Refreshing mouth freshener

Til seeds (white), fennel seeds, cumin seeds, ajwain seeds (carom seeds), cardamom seeds, amla (grated/dried), ginger (grated/dried), black salt, turmeric. Take an iron vessel/wok/kadhai. Dry roast fennel, carom, cumin seeds, then add till seeds, cardamom seeds, add salt, turmeric powder. Switch off the gas. Remove from gas, combine grated amla, ginger flakes. Mix well. When cooled store in an air-tight container and your on the Go mouth freshener is ready!!

We at Nadi Tarangini believe that natural foods are the keep to maintain good health and we always try in the best way to use the best natural ingredients in the wholesome and natural way!!! Stay tuned to more such interesting facts & insights with Nadi Tarangini!!!

Best wishes on Makar Sankranti!!

© Shruti Kulkarni
Consulting Nutritionist, Counsellor, Educator
Vaidya Tejaswini Bhale-Borse
Ayurveda & Panchakarma Practitioner