Makar Sankranti is among the most auspicious occasions for Hindus and is celebrated in almost all parts of India. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated in many cultural forms with immense devotion, fervor and cheerfulness. The festival is celebrated on 14th January and is possibly the only Indian festival whose date always falls on the same day each year with just a few exceptions.
Observances: Kite flying
Type of holiday: Traditional, Seasonal
Featured in religions: Hinduism
Also called: Sankaranthi
Date: day when the Sun begins its movement away from the Tropic of Capricorn (mid-January), 14 January, 15 January
Main Attraction : The various festivities of the different states are the main attractions. Also, the day of
Makar Sankranti is considered to be auspicious and meritorious.
Makar Sankranti is considered as one of the most auspicious days for Hindus. The festival is celebrated differently in different parts of India. Thousands of people take a dip in the river Ganga and pray to the Sun God. The southern parts of India also celebrated the festival as Pongal and in Punjab as Maghi. In Gujarat, celebrations are huge as people offer colorful oblations to the Sun in the form of beautiful kites. It stands as a metaphor for reaching to their beloved God.
In rural and coastal areas, cock fights are held as an important event of the festival. As the festival is celebrated in winters, food prepared in this festival is made to keep the body warm and give energy. Laddu of Til made with Jaggery is the festivals speciality. The festival of Makara Sankranti also honours and pays respect to Saraswati - Goddess of Knowledge. Makara Sankranti represents a period of illumination, peace, affluence and happiness.
Many Melas or fairs are also held on Makar Sankranti. The most famous among them is the Kumbh Mela which is held every 12 years at one of four holy locations, namely Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nashik. The Magh Mela (or mini-Kumbh Mela) held annually at Prayag, the Gangasagar Mela (held at the head of the Ganges River), Tusu Mela in parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal, Makar Mela in Orissa, etc are some of the other fairs celebrated on this day.
Some Intresting Facts about Makar Sankranti
- Why is it called Makar Sankranti?
On Makar Sankranti, the sun enters the sun-sign of Capricorn or Makara (the Indian rashi). Therefore the 'Makar' in the name. The word 'Sankranti' signifies the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign to another. Thus, the name of the festival literally means the movement of the sun into Capricorn.
- Day and night are equally long.
As Makar Sankranti is one of the oldest solstice festivals and falls on the equinox, day and night on this day are believed to be equally long. Post the festival, it is officially the beginning of spring or the onset of Indian summer and the days become longer, and nights shorter.
- Same festival, a million different names.
Though extremely popular as Makar Sankranti, the festival is predominantly a harvest festival and is celebrated throughout India, from north to south and east to west. While Makar Sankranti is most popular in West India, down south, the festival is known as Pongal and in the north, it is celebrated as Lohri. Uttarayan, Maghi, Khichdi are some other names of the same festival.
- Why do we consume til-gul?
Makar Sankranti is the festival of til-gul where sesame and jaggery laddoos or chikkis are distributed among all. They are generally accompanied by the saying, "Til-gul ghya ani gud gud bola", which translates to 'eat these sesame seeds and jaggery and speak sweet words'. The festival is one of bonding where every member of society is asked to bury the hatchet with enemies and foes and live in peace. Also, it is a superstition that during the festival, the Sun God forgets his anger on his son Shani and visits him. Thus, by distributing sweets, everyone is asked to spread joy around. Also, since the festival falls in winter, eating of sesame and jaggery is considered beneficial to health as they are warm foods. Thus, it is specifically this sweet that's distributed as it signifies bonding and good health.
- Why do we fly kites on Makar Sankranti?
There is a very interesting reason behind the kite-flying. Kite-flying in olden days was generally done in the early hours of the morning, when the sun's rays were bright but not too harsh. Also, during kite-flying, the human body was exposed to the sun for long hours. The early morning sun is considered beneficial for the skin and body. Since winter is also the time of a lot of infections and sickness, by basking in the sun, Hindus believed that the bad bacteria on their bodies would be cleared to a certain extent. Creating a fun way of sun basking where no one would even realise they were reaping benefits was through kite flying. Cool, right?
Makar Sankranti generally marks the beginning of the Kumbh Mela in Uttar Pradesh while in South India, in Kerala, one of the most austere and difficult pilgrimages of Shabrimala ends on this auspicious day. Other parts of the country too, celebrate by taking a dip in the holy rivers flowing through states to cleanse themselves of sins. It is also believed that if you die during Makar Sankranti, you are not reborn but go directly to heaven.