Hindu/Sanatana Dharma is often compared to an ocean. It is a way of life where you can find an embarrassment of riches to choose from on any given day, especially on festive days such as Sankranthi. We can remember that analogy to teach children how to approach the vast treasures that it offers. Let’s revisit Hindu Dharma periodically by taking a walk along the shores of this ocean every festival, if not every day. We can examine the hidden gems and precious shells that it throws up before us one by one. Children will delight in these findings.
The most memorable introduction to young children always begins with a story. What can be a better opening hook than the incident of the venerable Bhishma Pitamaha, who lay in wait on a painful bed of arrows for the start of the Uttarayana Punya Kala? The dramatic story of Bhishma choosing the time of his death will leave a big impression on kids, from where their imagination can take off to explore various facets. So why is Uttarayana considered Punya Kala? Tell kids that the gates to Vaikuntha (Bhagavan Vishnu’s abode) are said to open on this day.
Is your child interested in language? You can break up the words ‘uttara’ and ‘ayana’ (northward movement). You can get them into the etymology of various terms and names of festivals in Sanskrit and other local languages. What does Bhogi mean? How does Makara Sankranthi get its name? Researching different names for the festival is also an excellent way for the little geography enthusiast to know the essential unity of native traditions all across Bharat, Nepal, and much of Southeast Asia.
If Makara Sankranthi is the day when the sun transits into Makara Rashi, what about the sun’s transition into other zodiac signs? Does each of those Sankranthis have a name too? What is Rashi? This line of thought can go on infinitely, opening up a beautiful world of exploration and discovery for a curious, intelligent child.
Involve children who love physical activity in kite-flying, and explore the various traditions related to kite-flying in Bharat on this day. Is your child health conscious? Tell him about the beneficial effect of the mild Sankranthi sunshine on the first day of Uttarayan and how flying kites forces one to be outdoors, soaking up the sun. For a food-enthusiast, you can go into the history of til laddus and other traditional dishes. Til (sesame seeds) and jaggery have a warming effect on the body during the winter season. According to Ayurveda, they also help in balancing the doshas. Til by itself also holds special significance for Shani Dev, who is the ruler of Makara Rashi.
Is your child interested in animals and nature? Well, Sankranti is all about crop harvest, the cycles of nature, and livestock. The third day of the Sankranthi festival is dedicated to cattle. It is celebrated as Kanuma in the Telugu states and Mattu Pongal in Tamil Nadu. Show children that we are an ancient civilization, still living where others have disappeared, always connected to the earth and other natural elements. Take them back to when all the ancients used to look upon the world and nature as sacred before modern materialism overtook us.
Do you have little scientists at home? Get them to explore if Uttarayan and Makar Sankranthi always fell on the same day, or did it change due to axial precession? (orientation of the earth’s axis). There are many beautiful videos available to explain these scientific concepts. What about pagan festivals in Europe before the advent of Christianity? Did they have a similar celebration? Does Uttarayan coincide with the winter solstice? Let children research and explain to you about astronomically significant celebrations and scientific discoveries.
It’s essential to recognize that everyone need not do everything. Pick whatever interests your child and build it up from there. You may not be doing what others do, but you will raise a child who has made a deep, joyful connection with the ways of his/her ancestors. He or she will take it from there and follow it up with a commitment to willingly cherish and protect this ancient knowledge system.
It is up to us to use various hooks to draw children into taking an interest in our festivals. The Sanatana way of life is deeply connected to nature, science, storytelling, astronomy, the environment, food, fun and games, deep questions, and philosophical discussions. There is something here for every kind of temperament. With a modest amount of hard work and lots of imagination, children can be taught to enjoy their walks on the eternal shores of Sanatana Dharma, collecting and cherishing every beautiful sea-shell that this ocean offers to us.
(Featured image source: npshsr.com)
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