The Celebrations & Significances of Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti is a Hindu religious festival with social, astrological and geographical significances. It is celebrated on the first day of the solar month Makara at which the Sun enters Makara rasi (Capricorn). Unlike most of the Hindu celebrations, Makar Sankranti is observed according to the solar cycle. It is also regarded as a harvest festival dedicated to the Sun God Surya and is celebrated all over India with great zest and devotion.
When is Makar Sankranti in 2019?
Makar Sankranti 2019 is on 15th of January. As the Sankrantis are determined according to the solar cycle, they fall on the same day of the Gregorian Calendar in almost every year. The date of Makar Sankranthi festival is determined as the day of entry of Sun in Makar rasi (Capricorn). If the Sun’s transit to the Makar rasi happens before sunrise, then Makar Sankranti will be celebrated on the previous day.
The astrological importance of Makar Sankranti:
The term Sankranti refers to the transit of the Sun from one sign to other. The first day of every solar month is a Sankranti signifying the transit of Sun to a new sign. Thus, there are 12 Sankrantis out of which Makar Sankranti and Karka Sankranti are given more importance for their astrological and climatic significances. Makar Sankranti comes after the winter solstice in Dhanu and Karka Sankranti comes after the summer solstice in Midhuna. Once the Sun passes the equinox in Thula, the days get shorter than the nights until reaching the winter solstice in Dhanu. On the winter solstice, daytime will be the shortest of the year, after which, the Sun starts its movement towards the north. Once the Uttarayana or the northern movement starts, the duration of daytime increases.
Thus, the Makar Sankranti festival marks the end of the month with the winter solstice and the end of long nights. With Makar Sankranti or the beginning of the month of Makara, the days gets longer and warmer consistently.
The social and cultural significances:
The occasion of Makar Sankranthi festival is an important period in the agricultural cycle. For most parts of India, it is either the harvest time or the period after sowing. The festival observances and way of worships vary across the length and breadth of India. In some areas it’s a single day festival observed only on the Sankranti, while in some states, it’s a multiple days celebration. The celebrations include observances meant to thank Sun God for the good harvest and paving respect to the earth, the crops and the cattle. It is also an occasion of socializing in many parts of India. There is a tradition of preparing sweets at homes, particularly from sesame and jaggery.
Kite flying is a tradition of Makar Sankranti in certain regions in India. In this modern era, it is becoming more popular and has spread to new areas. Every year, on January 14, the city of Delhi holds an annual Kite Flying Day festival.
Makar Sankranti is a day of major religious observances at various Hindu pilgrim centres in India. The day is regarded as important for spiritual practices and devotees take a dip in the holy rivers viz. Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery. Also, Makar Sankranti coincides with some melas or religious fairs witnessing huge participation of devotees. The most famous of this melas is the Kumbh Mela held every 12 years at one of four holy locations, namely Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nashik. The Makar Sankranthi festival is celebrated by thousands of devotees during the Magh Mela (mini Kumbh Mela held annually at Prayag). The Gangasagar Mela held at Sager Island in West Bengal where Ganga approaches the ocean, is another major event where hundreds of thousands of devotees celebrate Makar Sankranti. The other major melas observed during the occasion of Makar Sankranti include Tusu Mela or Tusu Porab celebrated in Jharkhand and West Bengal, Poush Mela celebrated in Santiniketan, West Bengal and Makar Mela observed in Odisha.
The most important day of the famous Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala, Kerala, falls on Makar Sankranti day. The influx of devotees will be maximum on this day and hundreds of tons of people gather at temple premises to witness the famous Makara Vilakku and Makara Jyothi.
Regional variations of Makar Sankranthi festival:
The day of Sankranti is important for Hindus all over India. Makar Sankranthi festival is celebrated in every corner of the nation, but under different names and with different traditions. The festival is known by various names such as Lohri in certain North Indian regions, Sukarat in central regions and Sankranti or Pongal in Southern regions. It is celebrated in Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh regions as Maghi; the name signifying the corresponding lunar month of Magha. For the Assamese Hindus, Makar Sankranthi festival is known as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu and in West Bengal, it is Poush Sangkranti. In the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, it is known as Sankrant and in Bihar it is Kichari. Going to the South, this festival is known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu and is celebrated with huge fanfare. It is known as Pedda Panduga in Andhra Pradesh and Sankranti in Karnataka.
Thus, the tradition of celebrating Makar Sankranthi festival varies with different regions and their cultures. But for all, it is related to the astrological and agricultural cycles and the various observances include the acts of paving respect to the Sun, the Earth, the crops and the cattle. Also, in some regions, observing vrat or fasting, conducting pujas at homes and giving alms are parts of the festival.
Makar Sankranti in ancient scriptures:
Makar Sankranti is dedicated to Sun God Surya and it marks the beginning of Uttarayana or the six-month northern movement of the Sun. The significance of Makar Sankranti and Surya are traceable to the Vedic texts. In Mahabharatha, Bhishma Pitamaha, who was blessed with the boon of choosing his death time, waited for the beginning of Uttarayana to relieve the soul from his body lying on the bed of arrows. Another legend associated with Makar Sankranti is that Lord Surya chose this day to visit his son Lord Sani – the representative of Makara Rasi. Hence, there is a belief that this day is significant in resolving conflicts between a father and son.
Why Makar Sankranti is celebrated?
The Makar Sankranthi festival holds some eternal meanings. The term Sankranti signifies the movement of the Sun. Every time the Sun enters a new rasi, we observe Sankranti, and Makara Sankranti is given more importance as it comes after the winter solstice and marks the beginning of Sun’s movement towards the north. The significance of Sankrantis is that it reminds us of the fact that life is sustained by these relative movements of the Earth and Sun. The change of seasons, the northern solstice (summer solstice), the equinoxes and the southern solstice (winter solstice) are all the results of this movement. During the winter solstice, the tilt of Earth is maximum and the Sun reaches its southernmost point. From this day, the Sun’s northern movement gets strong and Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of the month with steady growth in the duration of the daytime.