Monday was special for George Kavanagh, who has come all the way from Ireland on a trip to Bihar. Unaware of the rituals of Makar Sankranti, the banker was more than pleased to take part in the celebrations at Tarumitra Ashram.
Tarumitra, an NGO, celebrated the harvest festival as Paddy Diversity Day with near-extinct varieties of paddy cultivated in organic methods, winning over 50 and odd participants, including students and Kavanagh. He ate dahi chura (curd and beaten rice) with jaggery and tilkut, the state's traditional fare on Makar Sankranti, for the first time.
"I had never tasted dahi chura before this. It was great. I have been told that it is a festival when people celebrate paddy harvesting," said Kavanagh.
Father Robert, the founder of Tarumitra, said: "People who took part in the celebration must have felt something different. Where else can they find organic chura? Farmers are not used to cultivate rice by organic methods. It is but natural that chura available in the market is not organic."
The celebrations and the organic fare impressed the visitors. "The celebration was a tad different from the ways Makar Sankranti is celebrated in other parts of the state. We saw some near-extinct varieties of rice such as Ram Dulari Kanak, Sugandh, Samjirna on display at Tarumitra. Father Robert showed us a PowerPoint presentation highlighting Tarumitra's initiative in organic farming of these varieties of paddy," said Karishma Das, a Class IX student.
Father Robert said the organisation held the programme to spread awareness among the participants about the varieties of paddy. "There used to around 20,000 varieties of paddy at one time. The Vedas confirm this fact. But today, in India, less than 80 varieties of paddy are cultivated," he said.