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Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti
Colourful kites being sold in a Shop in Lucknow
Official name Makar Sankranti
Also called Sakarant
Type Seasonal, Traditional
Significance Festival of Harvest, Celebration of Winter Solstice
Date January 14 & 15 (2 nd day)
Celebrations Kite flying

Makar Sankranti (Sanskrit: मकर संक्रान्ति, Telugu: మకర సంక్రాంతి, Marathi: मकर संक्रान्ति,Kannada: ಮಕರ ಸಂಕ್ರಾಂತಿ) or Sankranti or Sankranthi marks the transition of the Sun into Makara rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. Traditionally, this has been one of many harvest days in India.

Owing to the vast geography and diversity of culture in India, this festival is celebrated for innumerable reasons depending on the climate, agricultural environment, cultural background and location.

Contents

Date & Significance

Winter Solstice

Sankranti is the Sanskrit word, which refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi(zodiac in Indian astrology) to the other. Hence there are 12 such Sankrantis in all. However, the Sankranti festival usually refers to Makara Sankaranti, or the transition of the Sun from Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) to Makara rashi (Capricorn).

For this purpose, the Zodiac signs are considered sidereally, and not tropically, as in western astronomy, thus accounting for the Earth's precession. The festival therefore takes place around 21 days after the tropical winter solstice (between December 20 and 23rd) that marks the starting of Uttarayana, which means northward journey of Sun.

This is significant considering the Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the gradual increase of the duration of the day. Scientifically, the shortest day of the year is around December 21-22 after which the days begin to get longer, hence actual Winter Solstice begins on December 21 or December 22 when the tropical sun enters Makara rashi. Hence actual Uttarayana is December 21. This was the actual date of Makar Sakranti too. But because of the Earth's tilt of 23.45 degrees and sliding of Equinoxes, Ayanamasha occurs. This has caused Makara Sankranti to slide further over the ages. A 1000 years ago, Makar Sankranti was on Dec 31st and is now on January 14. 5000 years later, it shall be by the end of February, while in 9000 years it shall come in June.[citation needed] While the traditional Indian Calendar is based on lunar positions, Sankranti is a solar event. So while dates of all Hindu festivals keep changing as per the roman calendar, the date of Makar Sankranti remains constant, 14 January. Makar Sankranti is celebrated in the Hindu Calendar month of Magha.

Name

Sankranti is celebrated all over South Asia with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the country. In India it is known by different regional names:

Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.

In other countries too the day is celebrated under different names and in different ways:

Cultural Significance

1. The Puranas say that on this day Surya (Sun) visits the house of his son Shani(Saturn), who is the swami of Makar Rashi (Zodiac Capricorn). Though the father & son duo did not get along nicely, the Sun God made it a point to meet his son on this day. He, in fact, comes to his son’s house, for a month. This day thus symbolizes the importance of the special relationship between father & son. It is the son who has the responsibility to carry his fathers dream and the continuity of the family forward.

2. From Uttarayana starts the ‘day’ of Devatas, while dakshinayana is said to be the ‘night’ of devatas, so most of the auspicious things are done during this time. Uttarayana is also called as Devayana, and the next half is called Pitrayana.

3. It was on this day when Lord Vishnu ended the ever increasing terror of the Asuras by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandara Parvata. So this occasion also represents the end of negativities and beginning of an era of righteous living.

4. The great savior of his ancestors, Maharaja Bhagiratha, did great Tapasya to bring Gangaji down on the earth for the redemption of 60,000 sons of Maharaj Sagar, who were burnt to ashes at the Kapil Muni Ashram, near the present day Ganga Sagar. It was on this day that Bhagirath finally did tarpan with the Ganges water for his unfortunate ancestors and thereby liberated them from the curse. After visiting the Patala for the redemption of the curse of Bhagirath’s ancestors Gangaji finally merged in the Sagar. Even today a very big Ganga Sagar Mela is organized every year on this day at the confluence of River Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Lakhs take dip in the water and do tarpan for their ancestors.

We salute such a great devotee & benefactor of his ancestors. One who can express such gratitude to his ancestors, work with tireless resolve to redeem the pride, pledges & resolves of his forefathers, alone possess a personality, which the history reveals to be a true benefactor of the world too. A person who has severed his own roots gets soon rooted out in the flow of time. Moral of the story is to see to it that the roots of the tree of ‘our’ life are not only intact but nourished well, thereafter alone the tree blooms & flourishes.

There is another spiritually symbolic aspect of this story. The 60,000 cursed son of Maharaj Sagar represent our thoughts, who become dull & dead-like because of uncultured & blind ambition. Redemption of such people is only by the waters of Gangaji, brought down ‘to’ & later ‘from’ the Himalayas with great tapasya. This represents dedicated hard work to get the redeeming Brahma-Vidya, which alone enlightens, enthuses & enlivens the life of anyone.

5. Another well-known reference of this day came when the great grandsire of Mahabharata fame, Bhishma, declared his intent to leave his mortal coil on this day. He had the boon of Ichha-Mrityu (meaning dying at his will) from his father, so he kept lying on the bed of arrows till this day and then left his mortal coil on Makar Sankranti day. It is believed that the person, who dies during the period of Uttarayana, becomes free from transmigration. So this day was seen as a sure-shot Good Luck day to start your journey or endeavors to the higher realms beyond.

6. Sikhs celebrate it as Maghi.The tenth Sikh Guru Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji tore the Beydaava written by 40 Sikhs and gave them Mukhti on this day.These 40 Sikhs later came to be known as 40 Mukhtas.

Traditions and Rituals

Makara Sankranti is also to honour, worship and to pay respect to the word mother, Saraswati Maa (Goddess of Knowledge). At the start of this significant event, there is also worship for the departed ancestors. The period is also considered an ideal time for aspirants to satisfy "the goals of life".

The day preceding Makara Sankranti is called Bhogi and this is when people discard old and derelict things and concentrate on new things causing change or transformation. Sweets in generous quantities are prepared and distributed. It is a time for families to congregate. Brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as affirmation of their filial love. Landlords give gifts of food, clothes and money to their workforce.

On the day after Makara Sankranti, the animal kingdom is remembered and in particular, the cows. Young girls feed the animals, birds and fishes as a symbol of sharing. Travel is considered to be inappropriate, as these days are dedicated for re-union of the families. Pongal in this sense demonstrates their strong cultural values as well as a time for change and transformation. And finally, gurus seek out their devotees to bestow blessings on them.

Makara Sankranti has deep spiritual significance and is rooted in an unshakable divine history. Makara Sankranti has similarities to many, if not all, of the major festivals such as Shivratri, Saraswati Jayanti, Holi, Nau Ratum, Hanuman Jayanti, Raksha Bandhan, Pitri Paksk, Dusshera, Deepawali(Diwali) and Kartik.

Makara Sankranti identifies a period of enlightenment, peace, prosperity and happiness followed by a period of darkness, ignorance and viciousness with immense sorrow. The six months of northern movement of the sun is followed by six months of southern movement. This is the same analogy as the Kingdom of Rama that lasts for half the world cycle followed by the Kingdom of Ravana for the other half of the cycle. Analogously, the kingdom of Rama is heaven and the kingdom of Ravana is hell.

The celebrations cited above are similar to that of Shivratri when Shiva incarnates and descends on earth when there is irreligiousness, unrighteousness and lawlessness to preserve the righteous, destroy the evil and re-establish dharma.

This worship of Saraswati is for the same reason that they celebrate Vasanta Panchami that represents the first day of spring and falls in January-February. People are dressed in yellow that signifies auspiciousness and spirituality and it represents the ripening of the spring crops. The Bengalis call Vasanta Panchami Saraswati Pooja, where her image is finally immersed in the holy Ganges after parading for seven days with great pomp and splendour. Its background is based on Shiva who destroyed the demon Tarakasura to ashes. Ashes are symbolic of the conquest of purity over impurity which is the essence of Holika. These are but the same reasons that Saraswati is worshipped at Makara Sankranti. Vasanta Navaratri has the same significance to Makara Sankranti in terms of the time, reasons and seasons.

The disposal of derelict things is similar to Holika. This is where all old habits, the vices, attachment to relations and materials things are sacrificed in the sacrificial fire of the knowledge of Rudra, known as the "Rudra Gita Gyan Yagya. It represents realization, transformation and purification of the soul by imbibing and inculcating divine virtues.

The lavish distributions of sweets are similar to that of the fourth day of Diwali called Ankhood day. Diwali again represents the conquest of virtues over the vices. The giving of gifts to sisters is that element of the fifth day of Divali called Bhai Dooj. Sisters worship their brothers by doing aarti and brothers adore their sisters by giving gifts. This has similarities to Raksha Bandhan. The strong sense of values of Makara Sankranti is the same required for the observance of Diwali.

The worship and remembrance of departed ancestors is similar to the period of Pitri Paksh that precedes the second Nau Ratum. Dusshera follows immediately after and is symbolic of the burning the Rawan or mayic possessions. This again is done the day before Makara Sankranti and is called "Bhogi" day when all old and warn out possessions are destroyed. Pongal represents a time of change and transformation. This is the festival of Kartik that represents the change from kalpa to kalpa as humanity is transformed by inculcating the shrimat of the Gita. All these events represent the change from old to new. This is the reason many celebrate this event of Makara Sankranti as the beginning of the New Year.

Since the festival is celebrated in mid winter, food prepared for this festival is such that it keeps the body warm and gives high energy. Laddu of til made with Jaggery is a specialty of the festival. In the western Indian state of Maharashtra it is called 'Tilgul'.

In Karnataka it is called 'Yellu-Bella'. Yellu means 'til' or Sesame seeds and 'Bella' is Jaggery. A mixture of sesame seeds, jaggery, coconut and groundnuts are distributed to relatives and friends. 'Yellu-Bella' is normally distributed by women. There is a saying in Kannada "Yellu bella thindu olle maathadi" which means 'Eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good'. Cattle are decorated with various colours and are made to jump over a bon-fire.

Celebration

Kites waiting to catch the wind, held down by weights

Makar Sankranti is one of the most auspicious days for the Hindus and is celebrated in almost all parts of India in myriad cultural forms, with great devotion. Millions of people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar (point where the river Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal) and Prayag and pray to the Sun God (Surya). It is celebrated with pomp in southern parts of India as Pongal, and in Punjab as Maghi.

In the western Indian state of Gujarat, the celebrations are even bigger. People offer thousands of their colorful oblations to the Sun in the form of beautiful kites. The act stands as a metaphor for reaching to their beloved God, the one who represents the best. Makar Sankranthi also happens to be the day on which Bhishma, the grand sire of Pandavas and Kauravas from the epic Mahabharata voluntarily left his mortal coil. In the rural and coastal areas, cock fights are held and is a prominent event of the festival.

It is celebrated differently in different regions of India.

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Andhra Pradesh

Thorny Bushes being drawn by a Village Boy for Bhogi festival In a small Village in Andhra pradesh

The festival, Sankranti (మకర సంక్రాంతి), is celebrated for four days in Andhra Pradesh as below:

  • Day 1 - Bhogi
  • Day 2 - Makara Sankranti (Pedda Panduga)
  • Day 3 - Kanuma
  • Day 4 - Mukkanuma

The first day of festival is Bhogi (భోగి). At dawn people light a bonfire with wooden logs, other solid-fuels and wooden furniture at home home that are no longer useful. In many families, infants and children (usually less than three years old) are showered with fruit called "Regi Pandlu", that is the Indian jujube fruit. It is believed that doing this would protect the children from evil eye, called "Dishti" (from Sanskrit Drishthi: sight). The second day is Makara Sankranti (మకర సంక్రాంతి), also called "Pedda Panduga" (పెద్ద పండుగ), which literally means "the big festival", when everyone wears new clothes, pray to God, and make offerings of traditional food to elders in the family tree who died. Kanuma Panduga (కనుమ) is not as widely celebrated, but is an integral part of the Sankranti culture. Mukkanuma (ముక్కనుమ) is famous among the non-vegetarians of the society.

People in Coastal Andhra do not eat any meat or fish during the first three days of the festival, and do so only on the day of Mukkanuma, where as people in Telangana region observe only the first two days as part of the festival and eat any meat or fish on Makara Sankranti (Pedda Panduga), the second day of the festival. For this festival all families prepare Ariselu, Appalu (a sweet made of Jaggery and Pumpkin Fruit) and make offering to God. Without this, the festival is in-complete.

This festival is celebrated in almost every village with adventurous games in South India. Whether it is the cock fights in Andhra, Bull fighting in Tamil Nadu or Elephant Mela in Kerala, there is huge amount of illegal betting but the so called "tradition" continues to play a major role in the festival. Another notable feature of the festival in South India is the Haridas who moves around begging for rice wishing luck.

Assam

In Assam, the festival is celebrated as Bhogali Bihu.

Bundelkhand

In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh this festival of Sankrant is known by the name ‘Sakarat’ and is celebrated with great pomp & merriment accompanied by a lot of sweets.

Coastal Region

In the coastal regions, it is a harvest festival dedicated to Lord Indra.

Goa

Celebrations in Goa closely resemble to that in Maharashtra. The men hardly take part in the celebrations but it is the women folk who celebrate 'haldi-kumkum'

Gujarat

This is one of the major festivals in the state of Gujarat. It is a two day festival here.

1. 14 January is Uttarayan

2. 15 January is Vasi-Uttarayan(stale Uttaryan)

Gujaratis keenly await this festival to fly kites. In India the generic name for a kite is 'Patang'.These kites are made of tissue paper and bamboo and are mostly of diamond shaped with central spine and a single bow. A typical kite flying scene on this day may be described as :

In Gujarat, before the actual day of Makar sankranti, about the end of December, kids and young people start enjoying Uttarayan. Undhiyu (mixed winter vegetable) and chikkis (made from til (sesame), peanuts and jaggery) are the special festival recipes savoured on this day.

Karnataka

Sankranti offering "Ellu Bella" in Karnataka

Makara Sankranti (ಮಕರ ಸಂಕ್ರಾಂತಿ) is celebrated in all of Karnataka on January 14 of every year. On this auspicious day, young females (kids & teenagers) wear new clothes to visit near and dear ones with a Sankranti offering in a plate, and exchange the same with other families. This ritual is called "Ellu Birodhu." Here the plate would normally contain "Ellu" (white sesame seeds) mixed with fried groundnuts (kadale kai), neatly cut copra (kobbari) & fine cut jaggery (bella). The mixture is called "Ellu Bella" (ಎಳ್ಳು ಬೆಲ್ಲ). The plate will also contain sugar candy moulds of various forms (Sakkare Acchu, ಸಕ್ಕರೆ ಅಚ್ಚು) with a piece of sugarcane. This signifies the harvest of the season, since sugarcane is predominant in these parts.

In some parts of Karnataka, a newly married woman is required to give away bananas for a period of five years to married women (muthaidhe) from the first year, but increase the number of bananas in multiples of five. There is also a tradition of some households giving away red berries "Yalchi Kai" along with the above.

Another important ritual is display of cows and cattle in many colourful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession. They are also made to cross a pyre. This ritual is common in rural Karnataka and is called "Kichchu Haisodhu."

Kerala

Makara Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimala where the Makara Jyothi is visible followed by the Makara Vilakku celebrations. The 40 days anushthana by the devotees of Ayyappa ends on this day in Sabarimala with a big festival.

Maharashtra

Two types of tilgul exchanged and eaten on Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra

In Maharashtra on the Makar Sankranti (मकर संक्रान्ति) day people exchange multi-colored tilguls made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. Gul-polis are offered for lunch. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying – ‘til-gul ghya, god god bola’ meaning ‘accept these tilguls and speak sweet words’. The under-lying thought in the exchange of tilguls is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends.

This is a special day for the women in Maharashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called ‘Haldi-Kunku’ and given gifts (utensil, clothes, etc.), which the woman of the house purchases on that day. Typically, women wear black sarees or black colour dress on this occasion. The significance of wearing a black colour dress is Sankranti comes at the peak of the winter season and a black colour wear absorbs more heat and helps keep body warm.

Rajasthan

This is one of the major festivals in the state of Rajasthan. It is known as "Sakrat" in Rajasthani bhasa. This day is celebrated with sweets like Ghevar, Til-paati, Gajak. There is also tradition of flying kites in several cities of Rajasthan. People invite friends and relatives to their home for eating fried food item also.

Uttar Pradesh

In Hindu Mythology this is the first of the big bathing days. Over two million people gather at their respective sacared places for this holy bathing such as Allahabad, Haridwar and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

Kite flying in the rooftops of Varanasi

Kite flying is an inevitable part of the festival in many states of India, especially in Gujarat, Maharashtra, UP etc.Like other places in India, the reference to Til(Seseme seeds) and Gud (Jaggery) are also found in the songs sung on this day

Meethe GUD me mil gaya TIL,
Udi PATANG aur khil gaye DIL,
Jeevan me bani rahe SUKH aur SHANTI,
MUBARAK ho apko MAKAR-SANKRANTI.

Punjab

In Punjab where December and January are the coldest months of the year, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Makar Sankranti and is celebrated as Lohri. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together. The following day, which is Sankrant, is celebrated as Maghi. Bathing in any river in the early hours on Maghi is important. Hindus light lamps with sesame oil as this is supposed to give prosperity and drive away all sins. The Punjabi's dance their famous dance known as "Bhangra". Then they sit down and eat the sumptuous food that is specially prepared for the occasion. It is traditional to eat "kheer", rice made in boiled milk.[citation needed]

Tamil Nadu

It is a four day festival in Tamil Nadu:

  • Day 1 - Bhogi Pandigai (Bhogi)
  • Day 2 - Thai Pongal
  • Day 3 - Maattu Pongal
  • Day 4 - Kaanum Pongal

The festival is celebrated four days from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of the Tamil month Thai.

The first day of festival is Bhogi. It is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials, by setting them on fire, marking the end of the old and the emergence of the new.

The second day of festival is Thai Pongal or simply Pongal. It is the main day, falling on the first day of the Tamil month Thai. It is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots, which are later topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel. This tradition gives Pongal its name. The moment the rice boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of "Ponggalo Ponggal!" and blowing the sangu (a conch), a custom practiced during the festival to announce it was going to be a year blessed with good tidings. Then New boiled rice is offered to the Nature during sunrise, a gesture which symbolises thanks to the sun and nature for providing prosperity. It is later served to the people present in the house for the ceremony. People also prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, murukku, payasam and visit each other and exchange greetings.

The third day of festival is Maattu Pongal. It is for offering thanks to cattle, as they help farmer in different ways for agriculture. On this day the cattle are decorated with paint, flowers and bells. They are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane. Some people decorate the horns with gold or other metallic covers. In some places, Jallikattu, or taming the wild bull contest, is the main event of this day and this is mostly seen in the villages.

The fourth day of the festival is Kaanum Pongal (the word kaanum means "to view"). During this day people visit their relatives, friends to enjoy the festive season. This day is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. It started as a farmers festival, called as Uzhavar Thirunaal in Tamil. Kolam decorations are made in front of the house during Thai Pongal festival.

Tribals of Orissa

Many tribals in our country start their New Year from the day of Sankrant by lighting bonfires, dancing and eating their particular dishes sitting together. The Bhuya tribals of Orissa have their Maghyatra in which small home-made articles are put for sale.

West Bengal

In West Bengal, Sankranti, also known as Poush Sankranti after the Bengali month in which it falls, is celebrated as a harvest festival Poush Parbon (Bengali: পৌষ পার্বণ). The freshly harvested paddy along with the date palm syrup in the form of Khejurer Gur (Bengali: খেজুরের গুড়)and Patali (Bengali: পাটালি ) is used in the preparation of a variety of traditional Bengali sweets made with rice flour, coconut, milk and 'khejurer gur' (palm jaggery) and known as Pithey (Bengali: পিঠে). All sections of society participate in a three-day begins on the day before Sankranti and ends on the day after. The Goddess Lakshmi is usually worshipped on the day of Sankranti. In the Himalayan regions of Darjeeling, the festival is known as Magey Sakrati. It is distinctly associated with the worship of Lord Shiva. Traditionally, people were required to take a bath before sunrise and then commence their pooja. The food that is consumed consists primarily of sweet potatoes and various yams.

Mela

Many Melas or fairs are held on Makar Sankranti the most famous being the Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years at one of four holy locations, namely Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nashik. The Magh Mela (or mini-Kumbh Mela held annually at Prayag) and the Gangasagar Mela (held at the head of the Ganges River, where it flows into the Bay of Bengal). Tusu Mela also called as Tusu Porab is celebrated in many parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Subtle meaning in Sankranti

Makar Sankranti is the day when the Sun God begins its ascendancy and entry into the Northern Hemisphere. Sun for Hindus stands for Pratyaksha Brahman - the manifest God, who symbolizes, the one, non-dual, self-effulgent, glorious divinity blessing one and all tirelessly. Sun is the one who transcends time and also the one who rotates the proverbial wheel of time. The famous Gayatri Mantra, is directed to the Sun God to bless them with intelligence and wisdom. Sun not only represents God but also stands for an embodiment of knowledge and wisdom. Lord Krishna reveals in the Gita that this manifested divinity was his first disciple

See also

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