Makar Sankranti is a major harvest festival celebrated in various parts of India. According to the lunar calendar, when the sun moves from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn or from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana, in the month of Poush in mid- January, it commemorates the beginning of the harvest season and cessation of the northeast monsoon in South India. The movement of the earth from one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti and as the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac known as Makar in Hindi, this occasion is named as Makar Sankranti in the Indian context.
It is one of the few Hindu Indian festivals which are celebrated on a fixed date i.e. 14th January every year. Makar Sankranti, apart from a harvest festival is also regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase in Indian culture. It is said as the ‘holy phase of transition’. It marks the end of an inauspicious phase which according to the Hindu calendar begins around mid-December. It is believed that any auspicious and sacred ritual can be sanctified in any Hindu family, this day onwards.
Scientifically, this day marks the beginning of warmer and longer days compared to the nights. In other words, Sankranti marks the termination of winter season and beginning of a new harvest or spring season. All over the country, Makar Sankranti is observed with great fanfare. However, it is celebrated with distinct names and rituals in different parts of the country. In the states of northern and western India, the festival is celebrated as the Sankranti day with special zeal and fervor. The importance of this day has been signified in the ancient epics like Mahabharata also. So, apart from socio-geographical importance, this day also holds a historical and religious significance. As, it is the festival of Sun God and he is regarded as the symbol divinity and wisdom, the festival also holds an eternal meaning to it.
It is a harvest festival which is basically celebrated in the Hindu communities. In Indian, the states of Bihar, Bengal, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu celebrate the festival with great fervor and gusto.In Tamil Nadu the festival is known as Pongal, in Assam as Bhogali Bihu, in Punjab, as Lohiri, in Gujarat and Rajasthan, as Uttararayan. Outside India, the festival is given due importance in the countries like Nepal where it is celebrated as Maghe Sakrati or Maghi, in Thailand where it is named as Songkran and in Myanmar where it is called Thingyan. The festival of Makar Sankranti marks the day when the sun begins its northward journey and enters the sign of Makar (the Capricorn) from the Tropic of Cancer.
It is like the movement of sun from Dakshinayana (south) to Uttarayana (north) hemisphere. It is the one of the few chosen Indian Hindu festivals which has a fixed date. This day falls on the 14th of January every year according to the Hindu Solar Calendar. The festival is considered to be a day from where onwards all the auspicious ritualistic ceremonies can be solemnized in any Hindu family. This is thus considered as the holy phase of transition. Shankranti means transmigration of Sun from one zodiac in Indian astrology to the other. As per Hindu customary beliefs, there are 12 such Sankrantis in all. But the festival is celebrated only on the occasion of Makara Sankaranti i.e. the transition of the Sun from Sagittarius (‘Dhanu’ Rashi ) to Capricorn(‘Makara’ Rasi).
In this case, the zodiacs are measured sidereally, and not tropically, in order to account the Earth’s precession. That is why the festival falls about 21 days after the tropical winter solstice which lies between December 20 and 23rd. Here the sun marks the starting of Uttarayana, which means northern progress of Sun. Makar Sankranti holds special significance as on this day the solar calendar measures the day and night to be of equal durations on this day. From this day onwards, the days become longer and warmer.
It is the day when people of northern hemisphere, the northward path of the sun marks the period when the sun is getting closer to them. The importance of the day was signified by the Aryans who started celebrating this day as an auspicious day for festivities. The reason behind this may be the fact that it marked the onset of harvest season. Even in the epic of Mahabharata, an episode mentions how people in that era also considered the day as auspicious. Bhishma Pitamah even after being wounded in the Mahabharata war lingered on till Uttarayan set in, so that he can attain heavenly abode in auspiciuous times. It is said that death on this day to brings Moksha or salvation to the deceased.
Customs & Traditions
In Maharashtra, there is a custom of exchanging sweets made of jaggery, as the first sugarcane crop for the year is harvested during the period. According to a tradition, the Marathis wear black clothes, because they consider the black sesame as auspicious. Til Gul (Sesame- Jaggery sweet) is prepared and exchanged on the day. Flying kite is one of the popular Makar Sankranti traditions of Maharashtra.
Colorful kites, made of different shapes and sizes, are also flown in Gujarat, as a part of the celebrations of Makar Sankranti. This is primarily because, the festival coincides with the International Kite Festival held at Ahmedabad (capital city of Gujarat), on January 14. Charity forms a significant part of the traditions of Makar Sankranti. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, one can witness people donating Khichdi (rice cooked with lentils) to the poor and needy. People in Andhra Pradesh also indulge themselves in charity of clothes.
Taking a holy dip on the day is considered auspicious and hence, it is a popular custom followed in Uttar Pradesh, where people flock the religious places in the state to take a ceremonious bath in holy River Ganga. It is believed that taking dip in holy rivers provides moksha (salvation) from all the sins done previously. Makar Sankranti is known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu.
There, it is a three-day festival, starting from January 13 until January 15. January 13 is celebrated as Bhogi, followed by Makara Pongal (Sankranti) and then culminated by Mattu Pongal on the next day. Similar tradition is seen in Andhra Pradesh, where the third day of Makar Sankranti is known as ‘Kanuma’. The customs followed in villages of India, on Makar Sankranti, have a unique charm. Varied festivities including singing and dancing mark the celebrations of the harvest festival. Courtyards and swept and sprinkled with a mixture of water and cow dung, while the homes are scrub-cleaned for the festival. People would make Rangoli or Kolam in their courtyard. The villagers extend their gratitude to Mother Nature for a good