Makar Sankranti – Heralding New Beginnings
The Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti is considered to be one of the main festivals which mark the Sun’s transit to Makara (Capricorn). The festival is usually observed on January 14 and sets off as the first major Hindu festival in the Gregorian calendar. The term ‘Sankranti’ implies movement, and it marks the beginning of the Uttarayana or the northward movement of the Sun.
In many parts of India, Makar Sankranti is observed as a harvest festival. Charity performed on this day is considered to be of great significance. The festival is dedicated to Lord Surya, and it is believed that on this day, the Sun God visits his son Shani. This festival is celebrated with great pomp and fervour in many parts of India.
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Makar Sankranti 2022 – Determining the date
While most of the Hindu festivals are based on the lunar calendar, the Makar Sankranti date is determined as per the solar cycle. The word ‘Sankrant’ denotes the Sun’s transit into a new rasi/zodiac and also marks the beginning of the solar month. On Makar Sankranti the Sun transits into the Makara rasi or Capricorn marking the beginning of the Makara month.
In 2022, Makara Sankranti will be celebrated on January 14 2022. The Punya Kaal timings for Makar Sankranti are as below:
Makara Sankranti Punya Kala:
From 02:43 PM to 06:20 PM on January 14, 2022
Duration – 03 Hours 37 Mins
Makara Sankranti Maha Punya Kala:
From 02:43 PM to 04:34 PM on January 14, 2022
Duration – 01 Hour 51 Mins
Makara Sankranti Moment:
02:43 PM on January 14, 2022
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Makar Sankranti Puja Vidhi and Rituals
Before the onset of the festival, people clean their house and puja rooms and keep them ready for the puja. The puja is performed to gain the blessings of Lord Surya; hence an idol or an image of Lord Surya is placed on the altar and decorated and offered flowers, money, flowers, incense sticks, betel nuts and leave, holy water, turmeric powder and a plate with four white and black laddoos made from sesame. Women cover their heads with a sari or shawl during the puja. The devotees chant the Surya mantra “Om HramHreemHroumSahSuryay Namah” while performing the puja.
Rituals followed during Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti is celebrated across India and is known by different names. The rituals also vary according to the region. Makar Sankranti is known by various names such as Lohri in Punjab and 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, the Makar Sankranti festival is known as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu, and, in West Bengal, it is Poush Sankranti. In the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, it is known as Sankrant and, in Bihar, it is Kichari. Going South, this festival is known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu and is celebrated with huge fanfare. It is known as PeddaPanduga in Andhra Pradesh and Sankranti in Karnataka.
Different states practise different rituals which are unique to their region based on their cultures and traditions, but for all, it is related to the astrological and agricultural cycles and has certain observances in common such as paying 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 to the poor and needy are considered auspicious.
In Uttar Pradesh, people follow the ritual of having a holy bath in the Ganges. The ‘Magh Mela’ commences on this day at Prayag in Allahabad.
In Punjab, people light bonfires on the eve of Sankranti and perform puja around the sacred fire. They throw rice and sweets into the fire as offerings. Grand feasts are partaken by the people, and they perform the ‘bhangra’ dance around the fire.
Kite flying is a prime sport during Makar Sankranti in Gujarat. People gather on the terraces and open spaces to fly kites of various shapes and sizes. Other rituals include elders of the family gifting the younger members.
In Maharashtra, Makar Sankranti is celebrated with great fervour. Various sweets are prepared from jaggery and sesame and exchanged among one another with the greetings of “Tilgudghyaani god god bola”, meaning “partake the sweetness of jaggery and sesame and speak sweetly as the sweet.” Married women perform the age-old tradition of ‘Haldi Kumkum’, which is attended by other women folk from the area who apply the Kumkum and turmeric powder on each other’s forehead and exchange gifts and sweets with the greeting of “Tilgudghyaani god god bola.” Gifts are also exchanged during this event. There is also a ritual of buying new utensils for the house by the women.
In Tamil Nadu and Southern parts of India, Makar Sankranti marks the harvest season. Paddy is harvested on this day, and sweet offerings made of rice, jaggery, pulses, milk and ghee are prepared and offered to the family deity. The festival goes by the name of ‘Pongal’ and is celebrated for four days in Tamil Nadu.
The famous Ganga SaagarMela commences on this day in Bengal. The Mela is organised in the delta regions of the Ganga, where the river merges with the Bay of Bengal. Devotees take holy dips in Ganga and offer morning prayers to Lord Surya at dawn.
Makar Sankranti is observed as New Year by the tribes of Orissa and is welcomed with local food, which is shared among friends and families.
Legend of Makar Sankranti
Legend has it the Sankranti – after whom the festival has been named –who was a deity who annihilated a demon named Sankarasur. It is considered the date on which the Sun began to move northwards, as, before Makar Sankranti, the Sun shines on the southern hemisphere. This is believed to be the period of Uttarayan by Hindu and is considered to be a period of auspiciousness. The significance of Makar Sankranti has been mentioned in Vedic texts. According to Mahabharata, Bheeshma Pitamaha, who was blessed with the boon of choosing his time of death, waiting for the beginning of Uttarayana to liberate his soul from his body lying on a bed of arrows. Another legend associated with Makar Sankranti is that Lord Surya chose this day to visit his son Shani – the lord of Makara rasi. Hence, it is a belief that this day signifies the strengthening of bonds or resolving the conflicts between a father and son. There is another legend associated with this festival indicating the triumph of Lord Vishnu over the Asuras. It is believed that Lord Vishnu ended the distress caused by Asuras on PrithviLok by chopping their heads off and burying them under the MandaraParvat. Hence, Makar Sankranti also signifies the victory of good over evil.
Why do we celebrate Makar Sankranti?
Sankranti is observed every time the Sun enters a new rasi; however, Makar Sankranti is more significant at it arrives after the southern winter solstice and marks the beginning of the Sun’s movement towards the north.
The significance of Sankranti reminds us of the fact that life is sustained by these relative movements of the Earth and the Sun. The change of seasons, the equinoxes, the northern solstice (summer solstice), the southern solstice (winter solstice) etc., are all the results of such movement. During the winter solstice, the tilt of the earth is at maximum, and the Sun reaches its southern-most point. From this day, the Sun’s northwardly movement gets strong, and Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of the period with steady growth in the duration of daytime.
Significance of Makar Sankranti
Let us learn why Makar Sankranti holds great significance in the life of Hindus and why it is considered to be an important festival.
Astrological significances of Makar Sankranti
The first day of every solar month is a Sankranti signifying the transit (Sankranti or Sankramanam)of the Sun into that particular rasi. Thus, there are 12 Sankranti in a year. Of these twelve Sankranti, Makar Sankranti and Karka Sankranti are prominent for their astrological and climatic significance.
Makar Sankranti arrives after the winter solstice (shortest day) in Dhanu rasi, while Karka Sankranti arrives after the summer solstice (shortest night) in Midhuna rasi. When the Sun passes the equinox in Thula and moves south, the days get shorter than the nights. It progresses in this way until the winter solstice in Dhanu, which marks the shortest daylight of the year. After the winter solstice, as the Sun starts the Uttarayana or northward movement, the duration of daytime increases.
With Makar Sankranti, the days get longer and warmer consistently. In many parts of India, it marks the arrival of spring and is celebrated as a harvest festival.
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The spiritual significance of Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti is considered to be of great significance by the sages and Yogis. A Yogi’s life is based on the divine bond between the human system and the cosmic system. Their spiritual developments evolve following the movements in the Universe and corresponding developments on earth. Makar Sankranti is a transition that marks the gradual development of a new phase of life.
Social and cultural significance of Makar Sankranti
The occasion of the Makar Sankranti 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 ways of worship vary across the length and breadth of the country. In some areas, it is a single day festival observed only on the day of Sankranti, while in some states, it is a celebration that spans several days. The celebrations include paying obeisance to the Sun God for the good harvest and paying respect to Mother Earth, the crops, and the cattle. It is also an occasion of socialising in many parts of India through traditional preparing sweets at home prepared particularly from sesame and jaggery and sharing it among friends and family members.
Another important tradition is kite flying which is observed in certain parts of India. In this modern era, it is becoming more popular and has spread to new regions as well. Every year, on January 14, the cities of Ahmedabad and Delhi conduct Kite Flying Festivals, which is attended by people across the country and from abroad. These events have gained international recognition as natives and foreigners eagerly participate in the kite flying event displaying various shapes, colours and sizes of kites.
Pilgrimages during Makar Sankranti 2022
Religious observances mark the day of Makar Sankranthi at various Hindu pilgrimage centres. Devotees perform spiritual practices by taking a holy bath in the holy rivers of Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, and Cauvery. The festival also coincides with several Melasor religious fairs, which are attended by a huge number of devotees. These include the famous Kumbh Mela, which is held every 12 years at one of the four holy places viz. Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nashik. Thousands of devotees throng the Magh Mela, also known as the mini Kumbh Mela, which is held annually at Prayag.
In West Bengal, the Ganga Sagar Mela at the Sagar Island where the river Ganga merges with the Bay of Bengal is another event where thousands of devotees celebrate Makar Sankranti. Makar Sankranti also holds great significance in Kerala and is considered an auspicious time for undertaking the Sabarimala Pilgrimage. The influx of Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala, Kerala, will be at the maximum on this day where millions of devotees from across the country gather at the temple premises to worship Lord Ayyappa witness the auspicious Makara Vilakku (Makara Lamp) and Makara Jyothi (Makara Light).
Some of the other Melas conducted during this day include the TusuMela or TusuPorab in Jharkhand and West Bengal, PoushMela at Shantiniketan, West Bengal and Makar Mela in Orissa.