Jorethang, January 12: Come January 14 and it is the time to celebrate one of the most religious and ritualistically followed festival of the Hindu calendar Maghe Sankranti.

               Maghe Sankranti, one of the main festivals celebrated by the Nepali community in Sikkim is among the biggest cultural festivals that attract a major number of people from all communities. The Maghe Mela in Jorethang is undoubtedly the grandest Mela of them all. Over the years this Mela has transformed a lot, from a gambling den into a traditionally packed tourist attraction with its religious root intact which is the main origin of this decade old custom. In the course of transformation this Mela which is only celebrated in Jorethang in such a grand manner saw a sea change; the history behind Maghe Mela is very elaborate despite the fact that it was started in a very low scale, unlike what it has transformed into today. Looking back to the story of its origination and as informed by one of the volunteers who supported this Mela when it was first celebrated; this mela started in 1961 and was organized for the first time when the volunteers went from place to place informing people about it. With a mere amount in their pocket the volunteers cleaned an area so that they could organize some skill games and sports events to mark the celebration.
               During the initial years of the inception of Maghe Mela, people from Siliguri, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and all the tea estates used to gather in Jorethang and Rangit puja was performed on the banks of river Rangit. Handmade fabrics and seasonal fruits and vegetables were sold and the Mela thikadar used to collect the revenue and the government had no hand in organizing this Mela. The Mela was completely based on sports and traditional dances like the ‘Dhan Nach’ used to take place. Today, after going through a rollercoaster of changes both good and bad in the past 50 years, the Mela has of recently again gained back its traditional and ethnic value to some extent accompanied with the concept of tourism, wherein the Mela now has developed itself into a tourist attracting event, side by side helping in boosting the tourism sector of Sikkim. The Mela as of now includes more of adventure sports and events keeping in mind the interest of the tourists.
                But the glory of Maghe Mela as a main festival does not end here, the Nepali Hindu community believes it to be the great Makar night (the holy night of Lord Shiva), the event is called Makar Sankranti but the day is called Maghe Sankranti, when the month of Paush (ninth month on the Hindu lunar calendar) ends and that of Magh (tenth month) starts. During Maghe Sankranti, the Makar bath is taken in every household, spring or any other source of water, bathing at the confluences of sacred rivers like Ganga- Yamuna- Saraswati (Sangam at Allahabad) or Teesta- Rangit at Melli bears special significance, and it is due to this belief that people flock to these areas.

                The Makar bath symbolizes the cleaning off of ones sins or diseases, by taking a ritual bath after prayers, it is believed that on the Sankranti eve Makar Devta or Lord Shiva ascends near every stream to bless those who seek his blessings. Just after the sacred dip, the ‘Van Tarul’ tika is smeared on the foreheads and eaten raw as well.
               Astrologically speaking, this day marks sun’s entrance into Makar rashi (Capricorn), with its shift from Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius), the first day of Magh also marks the onset of Vasant (Spring) season. In terms of science, it is from this day that the sun starts its entry into the Northern Hemisphere climbing from the Southern Hemisphere and leaves the tropic of Capricorn to travel towards the tropic of cancer.
                This year Maghe Sankranti mela will be held at Jorethang as usual with same glory and flavour of diverse and colourful events, and to mark this day sports events is already been taking place, the actual Mela will start from January 14.



Source:  Sikkim Express, Dated: 13th Jan 2010