Makar Sankranti: Celebrating the transmigration of the Sun
Makar Sankranti marks the transition of the Sun from Capricorn to Cancer (from south to north). It also marks the auspicious period of Uttaarayan where generally winters, springs, and summers are experienced.
The festival of Makar Sankranti in India signifies the arrival of warmer days. It is also dedicated to the Sun God and marks the transition of the Sun into the zodiacal sign of Capricorn on its celestial path. This is the first change in the zodiac after the winter solstice and is the first day of the Hindu month of Magha.
Interestingly, Makar Sankranti is a solar event making it one of the few Hindu festivals which fall on the same date in local calendars every year: 14 January, with some exceptions when the festival is celebrated on 15 January. Sankranti marks the six months auspicious period for Hindus known as Uttaarayan. In this period, the Sun travels from Capricorn to Cancer (from south to north). We generally see winters, springs, and summers during Uttaarayan.
Sankranti is celebrated in various parts of India with different names and festivities. In some states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the celebrations last for four days. In most of the regions, the day preceding Makar Sankranti is called ‘Bhogi’. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Bhogi is the day of discarding old things and concentrating on new things. Bonfires are lit at dawn with logs of firewood, solid fuels and old wooden furniture. The burning of the bonfire signifies the disposal of old habits and vices and represents transformation and purification of the soul by imbibing and inculcating divine virtues.
Makar Sankranti is called Uttarayan in Gujarat and in this region it is celebrated as a kite festival. Special kites are made and the strings (maanja) are made of abrasives to cut down other people's kites. Gujarati expressions such as "kaipoche", "ae lapet", "phirki vet phirki" and "lapet lapet" are commonly yelled out while enjoying flying kites. A dish called undhiyu (spicy mix of winter vegetables) and chikkis (made from sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery are the special festival recipes savoured on this day.
In Maharashtra, people exchange tilgul (sugar granules coated in sugar syrup) and til ladoos (sweetmeats made from sesame seeds and jaggery) and greet each other by saying तिळगुळ घ्या, आणि गोड-गोड बोला, meaning forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends. Similar to the Southern States, Sankranti is a three-day festival in Maharashtra. A mythological legend says that when the brutal rakshasa Sankarasur started torturing and killing people, Goddess Sankranti appeared on the Earth to finish him off. To celebrate the downfall of Sankarasur, people started festival Sankranti. Women also wear black sarees or black coloured outfits on this occasion as black colour retains and absorbs heat. Sankranti comes at the peak of the winter season and black helps keep warm. Maharashtra is also famous for kite flying on this special occasion.
In Orissa, Sankranti is observed both by the general and the tribal castes. The Uttarayana Yatra in the Jagannath temple is famous. People offer a special kind of newly harvested rice and sugarcane mixed with jaggery, grated coconut, banana, molasses, chenna (cheese), Khua, various fruits, dry fruits and milk called "Makara Chaula" to the presiding deity, the Sun God. Solemn pyres are lit for satisfying the evil elements plaguing households.
In Punjab, the festival begins with Lohri and marks the beginning of the end of winter and the coming of spring. Lighting a bonfire is a key feature of Lohri and it represents the new life of the sun which begins to reinvigorate itself on winter solstice day. Lohri is traditionally associated with the harvesting of rabi crops. Eating sarson da saag and makke di roti is an ancient tradition. Apart from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Jammu also get busy making preparations for Lohri.
Makar Sankranti is a major festival for Hindus where they celebrate the cosmic changes as the earth starts its northward part of the rotation. Gods are invoked as this transmigration bringsi the promise of an abundant harvest with the beginning of the sowing season. Whether it is Lohri, Makar Sankranti or Pongal, sweets are exchanged and faiths come together to celebrate the coming together of science and spirituality.
Also read: Impact of Makar Sankranti on Birds