Makar Sankranti – History, Significance, and Celebration

Makar Sankranti is one of the few ancient Indian festivals that has been observed according to solar cycles, while most festivals are set by the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar. 

Being a festival that celebrates the solar cycle, it almost always falls on the same Gregorian date every year, which is January 14, except in some years when the date shifts by a day for that year.

It marks the first day of the sun’s transit into Makara (Capricorn), marking the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days.

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History of Makar Sankranti

As per Hindu mythological scriptures, it is believed that on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti, Lord Surya visits his son Lord Shani, who is also the representative of Capricorn. To celebrate the healthy relationship between father and son, despite their differences Makar Sankranti is considered significant. 

Significance

This festival is dedicated to the Hindu religious sun god Surya. This significance of Surya is traceable to the Vedic texts, particularly the Gayatri Mantra, sacred hymns of Hinduism found in its scripture named the Rigveda. The festival also marks the beginning of a six-month auspicious period for Hindus known as Uttarayana.

Makar Sankranti is regarded as important for spiritual practices and accordingly, people take a holy dip in rivers, especially Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri. The bathing is believed to result in merit or absolution of past sins.

They also pray to the sun and thank for their successes and prosperity.

For most parts of India, this period is a part of the early stages of the Rabi crop and agricultural cycle, where crops have been sown and the hard work in the fields is mostly over. The time thus signifies a period of socializing and families enjoying each other’s company, taking care of the cattle, and celebrating around bonfires.

Makar Sankranti Celebration

Makar Sankranti  Celebration

Makar Sankranti is celebrated across the country in different ways and the cultural significance of the festival varies geographically as we move from one state to another, with every state celebrating and welcoming the new season of harvest in their own indigenous manner.

Every region celebrates it in innumerable ways, according to the localization, culture, and traditions.

Delhi and Haryana:

Churma of ghee, halwa, and kheer are cooked especially on this day. One brother of every married woman visits her home with a gift of some warm clothing for her and her husband’s family. It is called “Sidha”.

Punjab:

In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Maghi. Every member of the family takes bath in a river in the early hours. It is important. A major Mela is held at Sri Muktsar Sahib on Maghi which commemorates a historical event in Sikh history. Culturally, Punjabi people dance their famous “bhangra”. Later they sit down and eat the spectacular food that is specially prepared for the occasion. It is traditional to eat “kheer”, rice cooked in milk and sugarcane juice. It is also traditional to consume khichdi and jaggery.

Rajasthan:

“Makar Sankranti” or “Sankrat” in the Rajasthani language is one of the major festivals in the state of Rajasthan. The day is celebrated with special Rajasthani delicacies and sweets such as Pheeni, Til Pati, Gajak, Kheer, Ghevar, Pakodi, Puwa, and Til Laddoo.

Kite flying is traditionally observed as a part of this festival.On this occasion, the sky in Jaipur and Hadoti regions is filled with kites, and youngsters engage in contests trying to cut each other’s strings.

Tamil Nadu:

It is a four-day festival in Tamil Nadu is known as Thai Pongal. Day 1 marks Bhogi Pandigai, Day 2 is Thai Pongal, Day 3 Maatru Pongal and Kaanum Pongal is celebrated on day 4.

Assam:

The festival is marked by feasts and bonfires. Young people erect makeshift huts, known as meji, from bamboo, leaves, and thatch, in which they eat the food prepared for the feast, and then burn the huts the next morning.

Maharashtra:

In Maharashtra on Makar Sankranti day, people exchange multicoloured halwa and Til-Gul Laddoo. The underlying thought in the exchange of til-gul is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends.

Himachal Pradesh:

In Shimla District of Himachal Pradesh, Makar Sankranti is known as Magha Saaji. Saaji is the Pahari word for Sankranti, the start of the new month. On Magha Saaji, people wake up early in the morning and take ceremonial dips and shower in the springs or baolis. In the daytime, people visit their neighbours and together enjoy khichdi with ghee and chaas and give it in charity at temples.

West Bengal:

In West Bengal, Sankranti, also known as Poush Sankranti named after the Bengali month in which it falls, is celebrated as a harvest festival Poush Parbon. The freshly harvested paddy and the date palm syrup in the form of khajoor gur and Patali are used in the preparation of a variety of traditional Bengali sweets made with rice flour, coconut, milk, and date palm jaggery and known as ‘Pitha’. 

The day after Makar Sankranti the first day in the month Magh from Bengali calendar The Goddess Laxmi Devi is worshiped. It is called Baharlaxmi Puja as the idol is worshiped in an open place.

Celebration In Different Regions By Different Names

 

Makar Sankranti is an important pan-Indian solar festival, known by different names though observed on the same date, sometimes for multiple dates around the Makar Sankranti. It is known as “Pedda Panduga” in Andhra Pradesh, “Makar Sankranti” or “Maghi Sankrant” in Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, “Pongal” in Tamil Nadu, “Magh Bihu” or “Bhogali Bihu” in Assam, “Maghi” in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh,  Magha Mela in parts of central and north India, as “Poush Songkranti” in the west, and by other names. In some parts of India, it is believed that a demon was killed on that day.

Scientific Reason For Celebrating

Much before contemporary scientists came up with their observations of solar system a few hundred years ago, scholars of ancient India (5000 years ago) already knew that sun is the center of our celestial system and is the source of energy for all planets including our planet earth, which takes 365 days to revolve around the Sun. This complete cycle of 360 degrees which is also called the solar calendar is divided into 12 phases or domains or zodiacs of 30 degrees each (360/12=30) and each zodiac is associated with certain characteristic depending on the positions of earth & sun in relative to each other, which in turn also determines the season & radiation patterns.

Since the radiations are proportional to the amount of sunlight, an easier way to analyze the radiation pattern would be by tracing the amount of sunlight received each day, which again is proportional to the length of the day.

In other words, it means the zodiac phases of the Sun from July to December witness decreasing sunlight, and after that, the subsequent zodiac phases witness an increase in sunlight. For an “observer”, it looks like the Sun is on a downward journey between July to December and this downward journey suddenly changes to upward journey or northward movement in late December & early January. Since Uttara means northward & Aayana means movement in Sanskrit, this phenomenon of phase reversal from southward movement to northward movement of the sun is called “Uttara Ayana” or “Uttarayan” in short.

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