SRI LANKA, January 14, 2018 (Sunday Observer by P. Krishnaswamy): The country's Hindus are celebrating the "Pongal" harvest festival, popularly known as Thai Pongal, celebrated in the first four days of the month of Thai in the Tamil-Hindu calendar. Traditionally, Thai Pongal is the festival of farmers who depend on Mother Earth, sun, rain, other natural elements and cows and buffaloes for a bountiful harvest of their staple food, rice. It is a time when the poor, the rich, the villager and the city-dweller offer thanks to the Gods, worship the sun, the earth, the cattle and their bounty with devotion.
In Sri Lanka, the festival is celebrated predominantly in the North, the East, the Central Hill Country, and other areas where Hindus live. This year's Thai Pongal is special to the Tamils of the North and East because a majority of them are back in their own villages and homes, engaged in their traditional professions, mainly agriculture and fisheries. Pongal is uniquely Tamil that it has been designated the State Festival in Tamil Nadu. Pongal is the only festival of the Hindus that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated in mid-January every year.
For a thorough description of of the festival preparations and celebrations see "source" above.
KOLKATA, INDIA, January 13, 2018 (New Indian Express): Over half a million pilgrims are expected to take the holy dip in the Ganga where it flows out into the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on Sunday at the annual Gangasagar Fair, with the West Bengal government and other agencies making elaborate arrangements to ensure peace and safety of the devotees.
About 93 miles from Kolkata in South 24 Parganas district, the Gangasagar island is considered auspicious by the Hindus, who gather here on Makar Sankranti, for a holy dip and to pray by offering coconuts at the Kapil Muni temple. The devout believe that a single dip in the sacred water washes off sins of one's lifetime. "We are expecting over five lakh (500,000) devotees this time. We have taken all measures to ensure peace and full safety of the people," a district official said. A number of senior ministers of the state government have been camping in the area, while sniffer dogs were busy checking the beach at Sagar, while a large number of police personnel are on duty. District Magistrate Y. Ratnakar Rao meanwhile said four pilgrims, who had come for the holy dip, died due to severe cold in the Sagar island.
In the four eternal Vedas; In the study and reading of scripts; In sacred ashes and in holy writs and muttering of prayers you will not find the Lord! Melt with the heart inside And proclaim the Truth. Then you will join the light life without servitude.
-- Sivavakkiyar, 10th-century Tamil devotional poet and mystic
HYDERABAD, INDIA, January 12, 2018 (Deccan Chronicle): Priests and religious leaders have sought the documentation of murthis in ancient temples across the state to thwart stealing. The state has nearly 20,000 temples, including 12,000 temples that are under the endowment department. According to C.S. Rangarajan, hereditary priest at the famous Chilkur Balaji temple, many temples in the state do not have proper documentation. Some temples in urban and semi-urban areas might have proper documentation, but what about ancient temples in rural areas? he asked.
"All details like age, weight, size and photographs of the statues have to be documented and should be uploaded on the net. The statues, some of which are more than 300 years old, are targeted by smugglers to sell them in museums overseas. If the data is available on the internet, smugglers cannot create fake records," he stated. Chilkur Balaji temple itself is a victim. Five utsav murthis were stolen in 2000 and investigators are yet to trace the statues.
INDIA, January 5, 2018 (YouTube): Dr. Karan Singh is an Indian politician, philanthropist and poet. He was a member of India's Upper House of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, representing the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Singh is the son of the last ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh. Video of Dr. Singh's inspiring farewell speech from the Rajya Sabha is at "source" above.