Makar Sankranti is a Hindu festival which is unique and colorful in various aspects. The most unique thing about this festival is that it is a solar event, unlike other festivals which are based on lunar calendar. As the name signifies, it denotes the transit of the planet Sun from Dhanush rasi to Makar (Capricorn) and thus marks the start of the summer or spring among the seasons. The name Makar Sankranti literally means the movement (Sankranti) of the Sun from Dhanush to Makar (Makar rasi).
The Sun starts his journey into northern hemisphere from Makar Sankranti. The solar aspect of this festival makes clear that the transition from winter to summer starts from Makar Sankranti and as such one can expect more of warmth and day -time from now on. The days are longer than nights and people enjoy the freshness of summer from the month of Magh(Thai).This especially is the day falling on the equinox making day and night equal in duration. From this day, Uttarayan starts and it marks the end of Dakshinayan. It falls on the fixed date of January 14 every year and at times on January 15. It is the starting day of Vasanth Navrathri.It is also considered as the day for Devas after the night they have till Margazhi.
Makar Sankranti has the specialty of being celebrated all over India with different names in different states. In Gujarat, it is called Uttarayan and people celebrate it by flying kites. In Uttar Pradesh, it is called Khicheri and taking a holy dip in river Ganges is considered very auspicious on this day. In Bengal, Ganga Sagar Mela is conducted with festivity and piety. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, it is the harvest festival. In Punjab, it is called Lohari. Bonfires and Bangra dance are the special events of the day. In Assam, it is called Boghali Bihu. Haldi kumkum is a famous ritual in Maharashtra during Makar Sankranti.
Though Makar Sankranti is celebrated with different names, all the Hindus welcome the festival with a warm heart since it signifies all good things in life and the removal of ill effects and evil things in life.
The festival has an astrological significance at the outset. As the Sun enters Capricorn, he meets his son Saturn (as Capricorn is the house of Saturn) and it is symbolic of driving away all enmity and developing friendship and bonding with dear and near.
Bhishma in Mahabharata was waiting for this day to end his life on earth. We all know that he was lying on the arrow-bed for a long time. He waited for the start of Uttarayan to end his life. The day of Makar Sankranti was awaited by him.
Lord Vishnu put an end to the terrors of the Asuras on this day and buried their heads under Mantar Parvat on this day. It signifies the end of demonic activities and the start of righteous living.
It is on this day, Bhagiratha brought the Ganges to the earth to redeem his 60000 cursed ancestors who were burnt to ashes. It happened at Kapila Muni Ashram near Ganga Sagar.With his staunch penance and tarpan, he was able to relieve his ancestors of their curse. It is believed that the ancestors of Bhagiratha are symbolic representations of our thoughts made dull by our ambitions and his tapsya is symbolic of our attaining brahma-vidya that can enlighten our lives.
Melas and Fairs
Kumba Mela which is conducted every 12 years in Nasik, Haridwar, Prayag and Ujjain is a very grand festival during the time of Makar Sankranti. A mini Kumba mela, Maga Mela is held at Prayag every year and Ganga Sagar Mela is famous in West Bengal.in Jharkhand, they celebrate Tusu Mela.
Variety of sweets
Multicolored halwa and many other sweets are prepared in various states and are distributed during Makar Sankranti to exchange greetings and spread good will among people. Til laddu is the very famous and common sweet prepared for the day and it is eaten by people to get warmth to their body amidst the cool winter days. Sesame and jaggery render warmth to the body and keep it active despite the chill surroundings. Similarly, by flying kites, people get exposed to sunlight and thus are able to fight out the cold that surrounds them in the environment during winter. The following lines reflect the spirit of people who eat sesame laddus and fly kites.
Meethe Gur me mil gaya Til,
Udi Patang aur khil gaye Dil,
Jeevan me bani rahe Sukh aur Shanti,
Mubarak ho aapko Makar-Sankranti.
(Sesame laddu yields warmth to body,
Flying kites renders joy to heart,
Let prosperity and peace be in life,
Hearty Makar Sankranti greetings to you!)
Tamil Nadu celebrates Makar Sankranti with vibrant cheers calling it Uzhavar Thirunaal. ‘Thai piranthal vazhi pirakkum’ is the age old belief followed by Tamilians. The month of Thai starting from Makar Sankranti denotes every good aspect in life for Tamilians since it is the harvest time and with the new paddy and sugarcane offered to the Sun god, they wish every good thing to happen in life with a dismissal of all negativities that have inflicted them so far.
It is a four-day festival in Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh and they celebrate it by way of thanking the natural resources that have helped them reap benefits from agriculture. In Kerala, it is the time of Sabarimala dharshan and Makara Jyothi dharshan.In Karnataka, Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival.
So, Makar Sankranti bears astrological and religious significance, brings joy and cheers to every home, helps pilgrims with a holy dip and removes negativity from the heart and adds warmth to the body with a rejuvenation of soul.