Makar Sankranti is a Hindu Festival observed by Hindus throughout India and falls in the month of January. It is the only festival in Hindu calendar which falls precisely on the same date every year – 14th January, although with few exceptions of January 15th.
Makar Sankranti is a festival which is celebrated by various communities throughout India, although with different names. Hindus and Sikhs belonging to the state of Punjab and adjacent areas celebrate it as “Lohri”; In Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka it is known as “Pedda Pandaga”; in Tamil Nadu the festival is celebrated as “Pongal” and in Assam it is called “Magh Bihu”.
Being celebrated by so many different communities, with vast linguistic and cultural differences; “Makar Sankranti manifests India’s cultural and religious unity.
The festival of “Makar Sankranti” is observed by many social festivities throughout India and also has solar, religious and agricultural connections, which we will learn further.
Makar Sankranti 2019
Almost every year the festival of “Makar Sankranti” is celebrated on 14th January, but in 2019 it will be observed on January 15th, Tuesday. The reason for this is that the celestial events of Makar Sankranti will occur in the night of January 14th, shifting the festival celebrations by a day – January 15th.
What “Makar Sankranti” Means/Legend of Makar Sankranti
The term “Makar Sankranti” is a combination of two different concepts – “Makara” and “Sankranti”. Since ages Hindus have been observing important cosmic activities and have named those related to the migration of Sun from one Zodiac sign to another as “Sankranti”.
Therefore “Makara Sankranti” represents the migration (Sankranti) of Sun into the “Makar” Rashi and marks the arrival of spring season in India. There is a “Sankranti” every month when sun passes from one zodiac sign to another, but “Makar Sankranti” is the most important and auspicious of them all.
Why is Makar Sankranti Celebrated?
The festival of “Makara Sankranti” marks the transition of Sun from “Sagittarius” rashi into the “Makara” or “Capricorn” Rashi; as per Hindu Lunar calendar. In other words it marks the passage of Sun from Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn (Makara); through, the Winter Solstice.
“Makar Sankranti” also marks the advent of Sun into Northern Hemisphere (also known as “Uttaryana”) resulting in longer days and shorter nights with end of Winter Solstice.
The Mythological/Historical Significance of Makar Sankranti
There are many stories in Hindu mythology which indicate that the day of “Makar Sankranti” was observed and also held much significance, even thousands of years back. A few of such historical events are mentioned below.
i) Transition to Next Life
One of the most important Hindu epic “Mahabharata” mentions “Bhishma Pitamah” refused to leave his body and waited for “Uttaryana” (celebrated today as Makar Sankranti) to do so. This indicates the significance as well as the auspiciousness of the celestial occurrence, even 5000 years back.
ii) Liberation from Sufferings and Pain
It was on the day of “Makar Sankranti” that King Bhagirath is believed to have bathed in holy Ganga and liberated his ancestors form the curse of Kapil Muni. Thus, Makar Sankranti” is also considered as a day which liberates suffering and pain.
iii) Execution of Responsibilities
According to Hindu mythology Lord Shani is the owner of Makara constellation and on the day of “Makar Sankranti” he is visited by Sun. As Sun is the foster father of Shani, they don’t share a very cordial relationship; however, Shani well understands his responsibilities and takes care of his father. Thus, “Makar Sankranti” also professes to fulfill one’s responsibilities.
iv) End of Evil
The auspicious occasion of “Makar Sankranti” also signifies the end of evil, darkness, dishonesty and discontentment, as it was on this day that Goddess Durga as “Mahisasurmardini” is believed to first set foot on earth; to kill Mahisasur and end darkness.
Connection of Agriculture with “Makar Sankranti”
The auspicious occasion of “Makar Sankranti” is also associated with mainly rice harvest in different states of India. Especially in Punjab and Southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of rice harvesting and crops play a vital role in the celebrations.
Also in the state of Assam the festival is called “Magh Bihu” and marks the beginning of rice harvesting. The festival is celebrated with a week of festivities including feasts and gatherings. Earlier the celebrations were observed for a month, hence the name “magh” meaning a month.
Significance of Public Gatherings on “Makar Sankranti”
The festival of “Makar Sankranti” witnesses many large and small public gatherings, to celebrate the festivities and share the joy. But, there are few gatherings organized on the day of “Makar Sankranti”, which had since centuries earned the distinction of being the largest public gathering in India and also in Asia. A brief description of some of the important gatherings on “Makar Sankranti” is given below.
i) “Kumbh” and “Maha Kumbh”
The auspicious day of “Makar Sankranti” also witnesses some of the largest gatherings of Hindu pilgrimage. In Prayraj (initially Allahabad), at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati millions of Hindus gather every six and twelve years to take a dip into the holy confluence on the occasions of Kumbh (every 6 years) and Mahakumbh (every 12 years). The bathing continues for a month, beginning on the day of “Makar Sankranti”. Hindus believe that a bath in the holy waters on the auspicious day of “Makar Sankranti” would make them immortal.
“Kumbh” and “Mahakumbh” are the largest congregation of Hindus, in the world. The next Kumbh at Pragraj scheduled to begin from 15th January 2019, is expected to have 150 Million pilgrims.
ii) At Ganga Sagar Island
On the day of Makar Sankranti Millions gather at Sagar Islands in West Bengal on the banks of Hooghly River. Hooghly is a distributary of Ganges and a dip in it on the day of “Makar Sankranti” is considered auspicious and believed to cleanse people of their sins.
It the largest fair in West Bengal and is observed for three days and Millions of pilgrims gather at Sagar Islands.
Which Gods are Worshiped on “Makar Sankranti”?
The festival of “Makar Sankranti” commemorates many Hindu Gods and in way it also celebrates the hard work of Indian farmers. Since it marks the beginning of harvest season of Kharif crop; Indra and Sun God are praised at many places. Indra is praised because he has the power to form and control rains and Sun (Surya) is praised because of the beginning of harvest season.
Why Kites are Flown on “Makar Sankranti”?/Tradition of Kite Flying
“Makar Sankranti” marks the end of Winter Solstice and the beginning of spring. Starting from Makar Sankranti the days begin to get longer and warmer.
The custom of kite flying on “Makar Sankranti” has health benefits apart from providing entertainment. The purpose of the custom is to get you out in the early morning Sun and get warm in healthy rays of Sun, after a long chilly winter. The rays of the Sun on “Makar Sankranti” are the brightest and hottest than in the gone months and are a good source of Vitamin D; beneficial to skin and other cold related ailments.
How Makar Sankranti is Celebrated?
Different Indian States have their own cultures and traditions of celebrating Makar Sankranti. In whichever state “Makar Sankranti” is celebrated, there is one thing is common and that is the preparation of delicacies. A variety of sweets and other delicacies are prepared days before the advent of “Makar Sankranti”.
Hundreds of variety of sweets and dishes are prepared from North to South and from East to West; so much so that it is not possible to mention them all here. Though, some of the delicacies with their respective states are – Andhra Pradesh – Ballam Appalu, Kudumulu, Dappalam; Karnataka – Ellu Bella (ground nut mixed with jaggery); Delhi – kheer, churma and til ladoos; Maharashtra- Til gud Ladoo, Puran Poli, Halwa etc; Assam – Rice cakes of various varieties; Uttar Pradesh – Kichdi.
The celebrations of “Makar Sankranti” differ from state to state, like the delicacies. Mostly the celebrations are rooted in ages old local customs and traditions. A brief description on “Makar Sankranti Celebrations” in some important parts of India is given below-
i) Delhi and Haryana
In Delhi and Haryana the day marks the preparation of sweets and other delicacies like – kheer, til ladoos etc. It is customary for brother of a married woman to visit her and her in laws with gifts, which may include – sweets, clothes etc. Women of a community sing folk songs to celebrate the day.
In Punjab, “Makar Sankranti” is observed as Maghi. It is customary to take bath in a river and people dance their famous ‘Bhangra’ to the sounds of drums. Community meals are prepared for everyone and after long dance and enjoyment people settle down to relish a filling meal.
iii) Rajasthan and Western Madhya Pradesh
Local sweets like ghewar, til ladoos, gajak, jaggery sweets are prepared. Women give any house hold items to thirteen married women. There is also a tradition to invite a daughter or sister to celebrate her first “Makar Sankranti” after marriage, at her ancestral house. A festive meal is prepared for the woman and her husband. People also fly kites and distribute clothes to the needy.
iv) Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu “Makar Sankranti” is celebrated as a four day festival and is called “Pongal”. A traditional sweet dish is prepared by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery, topped with various nuts and raisins and offered to Sun God before consumption. The other day cattle are bathed, decorated and fed, to thank them for their hard work and in fields.
The Konark Temple in Odisha is storming with people who go there to worship Sun God as he transits northwards on the auspicious occasion of “Makar Sankranti”. Various other gatherings/melas are organized at different places – Dhanbaleshwar in Cuttack, Makara /muni temple in Balasore etc.
vi) Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand
In the state of Uttar Pradesh devotees take dip in holy Ganga and pray to sun God. Millions go to the holy cities of Varanasi, Prayagraj (Allahabad) and Haridwar in Uttarakhand, to take a dip into Ganga. They believe that bathing in the holy water of Ganga on the auspicious day, relieve them of all their past sins and attain enlightenment. A local dish “Kichdi”: a mixture of rice, pulse and vegetables is prepared. Kite flying on “Makar Sankranti” has become an integral part of festival, for the people of Uttar Pradesh as well as Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
What to do/How to Celebrate “Makar Sankranti” in more Effective Way
There are a number of ways to celebrate “Makar Sankranti” and be part of a significant celestial change and also to admire the power of Sun and acknowledge its significance. Some of the activities which could be undertaken on the day are given below-
1) Stand in the Sun
Makar Sankranti is an auspicious day marking the transition of Sun into Makara Rasi and end of Winter Solstice. The days beginning from Makar Sankranti start to get longer and warmer. So, go stand out in the early morning Sun and get healed after a long winter. On the day sun shines bright and the rays are loaded with Vitamin D; beneficial for both skin and winter related ailments.
2) Pray to the Sun God
Face East and take a moment to thank “Sun” for his blessings in the form of heat that he provides, which is indeed essential for life on earth. Sun plays a significant role in harvests, rains and other essentialities of life. There would be no life without Sun. Acknowledge this fact and return the gesture.
3) Take a Holy dip
If you are fortunate enough to be residing near a holy river, then don’t forget to take a dip into the water and pray to early morning Sun. It is a tradition, which is being followed since thousands of years and it also has hidden health benefits for atheists too.
4) Fly Kite
Kite flying on the festival of “Makar Sankranti” has become a tradition in almost all north Indian state. It provides entertainment as well an excuse to stay in the sun for longer duration. So go out and fly a kite, but remember to stay safe and also keep others safe. Avoid dangerous and banned strings used for kite flying.
“Makar Sankranti” Marks the end of winter and advent of spring season. You can donate rice, jaggery etc to the poor along with winter clothes like – blankets, sweaters etc. Donation is a best way to share your joy with those who most need it as well as to show your concern to nature and its inhabitants.
6) Celebrate Together
In whichever state you reside in whatever traditions, culture or rituals you follow; celebrate the festival with others from your community, socializing with them. Give sweets exchange pleasantries or just go visit your friends or relatives. Socializing increases the joy of the festival by making it more enjoyable and significant.