Makar Sankranti

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Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival, which is 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. 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 and in innumerable ways depending on the climate, agricultural environment, cultural background and location.

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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.

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Sankranti 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 prcession. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 (the point where the river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal) and Prayag and pray to the Sun God (Surya).

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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.

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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'.

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