Makara Sankranti is a Hindu festival celebrated in almost all parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. It is a harvest festival. It is the Hindi/Indo-Aryan languages name for Makara Sankranthi (still used in southern areas as the official name).
Makar Sankranti marks the transition of the Sun into the zodiac sign of Makara rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. The day is also believed to mark the arrival of spring in India and is a traditional. Makara Sankranti is a solar event making one of the few Indian festivals which fall on the same date in the Gregorian calendar every year: 14 January, with some exceptions when the festival is celebrated on 13 or 15 January.
According to the Hindi calendar Makar Sankranti is festival celebrated for new year for Hindus.
Date and significance
Makar Sankranti has an astrological significance, as the sun enters the Capricorn (Sanskrit: Makara) zodiac constellation on that day. This date remains almost constant with respect to the Gregorian calendar. However, precession of the Earth’s axis (called ayanamsa) causes Makara Sankranti to move over the ages. A thousand years ago, Makara Sankranti was on 31 December and is now on 14 January. According to calculations, from 2050 Makar Sankranti will fall on 15 January.
Makara Sankranti is a major harvest festival celebrated in various parts of India. Makara Sankranti commemorates the beginning of the harvest season and cessation of the northeast monsoon in South India. The movement of the Sun from one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti and as the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac known as Makara in Sanskrit, this occasion is named as Makara Sankranti in the Indian context. It is one of the few Hindu Indian festivals which are celebrated on a fixed date i.e. 14 January every year (or may be sometimes on 15 January (leap year)).
Makara Sankranti, apart from a harvest festival is also regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase in Indian culture. It is said as the ‘holy phase of transition’. It marks the end of an inauspicious phase which according to the Hindu calendar begins around mid-December. It is believed that any auspicious and sacred ritual can be sanctified in any Hindu family, this day onwards. Scientifically, this day marks the beginning of warmer and longer days compared to the nights. In other words, Sankranti marks the termination of winter season and beginning of a new harvest or spring season.
All over the country, Makara Sankranti is observed with great fanfare. However, it is celebrated with distinct names and rituals in different parts of the country. In the states of northern and western India, the festival is celebrated as the Sankranti day with special zeal and fervour. The importance of this day has been signified in the ancient epics like Mahabharata also. So, apart from socio-geographical importance, this day also holds a historical and religious significance. As it is the festival of Sun God, and he is regarded as the symbol divinity and wisdom, the festival also holds an eternal meaning to it.
Makara Sankranti and the Winter Solstice
Many Indians conflate this festival with the Winter Solstice, and believe that the sun ends its southward journey (Sanskrit: Dakshinayana) at the Tropic of Capricorn, and starts moving northward (Sanskrit: Uttarayaana) towards the Tropic of Cancer, in the month of Pausha on this day in mid-January.
There is no observance of Winter Solstice in the Hindu religion. Further, the Sun makes its northward journey on the day after winter solstice when day light increases. Therefore, Makara Sankranti signifies the celebration of the day following the day of winter solstice.
Scientifically, if winter solstice occurs on 21 December, the Sun ends its southward journey on that day and therefore, the day will be the shortest of the year and the night will be the longest. Day light will begin to increase on 22 December and on this day, the Sun will begin its northward journey which marks Uttarayaana
Sankranti is celebrated all over South Asia with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the country popularly celebrated in Karnataka (Sankranthi), Andhra pradesh (Sankranthi) and Tamil Nadu (Pongal).
Multicolored sugar halwa surrounded by til-gul (sesame and jaggery) ladoos. These exchanged and eaten on Makara Sankranti in Maharashtra
In Maharashtra on the Makara Sankranti (day people exchange multi-coloured halwa(sugar granules coated in sugar syrup) and til-gul ladoos (sweetmeats made from sesame seeds and jaggery). Gulachi Poli (flat bread stuffed with soft/shredded Jaggery mixed with toasted, ground Til (white sesame seeds)and some gram flour which has been toasted to golden in plenty of pure Ghee) are offered for lunch. While exchanging til-gul as tokens of goodwill people greet each other with the words, “तिळगुळ घ्या आणि गोड गोड बोला/til-gul ghya, aani god god bola” meaning ‘Accept these tilguls and speak sweet words’. 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.
This is a special day for the women in Maharashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called ‘Haldi-Kunku’ (literally meaning turmeric and vermillion) and given gifts such as utensil, clothes, etc. Typically, women wear black sarees or black coloured outfits on this occasion. The significance of wearing black is that Sankranti comes at the peak of the winter season and black colour retains and absorbs heat, helping keep warm. Maharastra is also famous for kite flying on this special occasion.
Kites waiting to catch the wind, held down by weights Makara 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 likeGanga Sagar (the point where the river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal) and Prayag and pray to the Sun God (Surya). It is celebrated with pomp in southern parts of India as Sankranti (Pongal in Tamil Nadu), and in Punjab as Maghi.
In the western Indian state of Gujarat, the celebrations are even bigger. People offer thousands of their colourful 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. In the rural and coastal areas, cock fights are held and is a prominent event of the festival. Makara Sankranti is also to honour, worship and to pay respect to Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge). At the start of this significant event, there is also worship for the departed ancestors.
Makara Sankranti identifies a period of enlightenment, peace, prosperity and happiness followed by a period of darkness, ignorance and viciousness with immense sorrow. The six months of northern movement of the sun is followed by six months of southern movement.
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 speciality of the festival. In the western Indian state of Maharashtra it is called ‘Tilgud’. In Karnataka it is called ‘Yellu-Bella’. In some states cattle are decorated with various colours and are made to jump over a bon-fire.
In Odisha people prepare makara chaula uncooked newly harvested rice, banana, coconut, jaggery, sesame, rasagola, Khai/Liaa and chhena puddings for naivedya to gods and goddesses. The withdrawing winter entails a change in food habits and intake of nourishing and rich food. Therefore this festival holds traditional cultural significance. It is astronomically important for devotees who worship the sun god at the great Konark temple with fervour and enthusiasm as the sun starts its annual swing northwards. According to various Indian calendars, the Sun’s movement changes and the days from this day onwards become lengthier and warmer and so the Sun-God is worshiped on this day as a great benefactor. Many individuals at the start of the day perform a ritual bath while fasting.Makara Mela (Fun fair) is observed at Dhabaleswar in Cuttack, Hatakeshwar at Atri in Khordha, Makara Muni temple in Balasore and near various deities in each district of Odisha. In Puri special rituals are carried out at the temple of Lord Jagannath. In Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Kalahandi, Koraput and Sundargarh where the tribal population is greater, the festival is celebrated with great joy. They celebrate this festival with great enthusiasm, singing, dancing and generally having an enjoyable time. Many of the traditional calendars in Odisha start their New Year from the day of Sankranti. Various tribal groups celebrate with traditional dancing, eating their particular dishes sitting together, and by lighting bonfires.
In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Maghi. Bathing in any river in the early hours on Maghi is important. Hindus light lamps with sesame oil as this is supposed to give prosperity and drive away all sins. The Punjabis dance their famous dance known as “bhangra”. Then they sit down and eat the sumptuous 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.
December and January are the coldest months of the year in the Punjab. Maghi represents the change of the season to warmer temperatures and increase in daylight. Huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Maghi and the day is celebrated as Lohri
“Makar Sankrati” or “Sankrat” in the Rajasthani languageis one of the major festivals in the state of Rajasthan. The day is celebrated with some special Rajasthani delicacies and sweets such as pheeni (either with sweet milk or sugar syrup dipped), til-paati, gajak, kheer, ghevar, pakodi, puwa, and til-ladoo.
Specially, the ladies of this region observe a kind of ritual in which they give any type of object (related to household, make-up or food) to 13 married women. The first Sankranti experienced by a married woman is of significance as she is invited by her parents and brothers to their houses with her husband for a big feast. People invite friends and relatives (specially their sisters and daughters) to their home for special festival meals (called as “Sankrant Bhoj”). Also people give out many kind of small gifts such as til-gud (jaggery), fruits, dry khichadi, etc. to Brahmins or the needy ones.
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 kite contests trying to cut each other’s strings.