Makara Sankranti –
Most Hindu festivals follow the position of the moon and are based on the lunar calendar. Thus, the dates of festivals change every year. But Makar Sankranti is a festival which falls on the same day every year as it follows the solar calendar.
However, once every eighty years, due to revolution, the day is postponed by one day. Makar Sankranti is celebrated on the 14th of January every year (sometimes on the 15th) for now. From 2050, it is predicted that the festival will fall on the January 15 (and occasionally on the 16th).
On Makar Sankranti, the sun enters the Capricorn or Makara (Indian Rashi) and hence 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.
Equal day & night
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. The post-festival period is officially the beginning of spring or the onset of Indian summer during which days become longer, and nights shorter.
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.
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.
It is believed 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. Since the festival falls in winter in the Northern Hemisphere, eating of sesame and jaggery is considered beneficial to health as they are warm foods.
There is a very interesting reason behind kite-flying associated with Makara Sankranti.
In ancient India, this sport was undertaken in the early hours of the morning, when the sun’s rays were bright but not too harsh. During kite-flying, the human body is 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 body would be cleared of bad bacteria.
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 the festival. Hindu take a dip in the holy rivers flowing through states to cleanse themselves of sins.
The above article, written by Rutu Ladage, appeared with the accompanying pictures in India Times issue dated January 14, 2014.