Gear up for the festival liked by one and all. While some celebrate it as a ‘holy phase of transition’, some enjoy the festival with the delicious til-gud (a sweet made of Sesame seed and Jaggery). But as you cannot imagine an Indian festival without colours, Makar Sankranti is mostly associated as the festival of kites where the Sun is greeted by colorful kites waving in the skyline.
The significance of Makar Sankranti is in the fact that it is one of the few Indian festivals which falls on the same day every year, i.e. on 14th January and occasionally on 15th January as per the Gregorian calendar. This is because it follows the solar calendar unlike other Hindu festival which follows the lunar calendar.
But why is it called Makar Sankranti?
Well, Makar is the sun-sign of Capricorn and Sankranti means Transition. So the transition of the Sun from the preceding Zodiac Sagittarius to the Capricorn is denoted as Makar Sankranti. This happens during the end of the winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, which makes the days longer than the night. In fact, as Makar Sankranti falls on the equinox, on 14th January the day and night time are equally the same. This festival marks the beginning of the spring season and termination of winter, and is considered as the best time for Harvesting. Hence, symbolizing this auspicious day as ‘Harvest Festival’.According to Mahabharata, Bhishma Pitamah who had the power to decide the day of his death had chosen the day of Makar Sankranti to separate his soul from his body. Since then, it is believed that the one who dies on this day attains Moksha, liberate from cycle of birth.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated in all corners of India and in Nepal as well. Interestingly, one can also find this festival celebrated in the USA, Europe and other Asian countries as well, thanks to the Non Residential Indian community present in larger numbers.
Popularly known as Makar Sankranti in Western part of India and Uttarayan in Gujarat, it’s celebrated by organizing a Carnival known as Mela in the Eastern India. It is commonly known as Lohri in North Indian states of Punjab, Haryana.
It is celebrated as Khicdi in UP and Bihar. In the southern belt of India, it is celebrated as Pongal. No matter as how it’s celebrated, the Zeal and Enthusiasm amongst the people remains the same.
What to wear during Makar Sankranti?
As Makar Sankranti marks a new beginning, people celebrate it by wearing new clothes. The Ethnicity varies according to Culture, Tradition and geography.
New arrival sarees are the most famous attire chosen to grace this occasion. Generally, Printed Sarees and Multicolored sarees are used to symbolize vibrant beginning. As Makar Sankranti also brings the end of an inauspicious period known as ‘Paush’, auspicious and sacred rituals like Pujas, Engagements and Griha-pravesh (House warming) are also being held at various households.
How is it celebrated and what is is the purpose?
In the northern part of India, Makar Sankranti 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. Kumbh Mela is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world where millions of people get together to take a holy dip in the River Ganga believed to be the Goddess Ganga. Ganga has a long stretch throughout the Northern and Eastern part of India and hence, people enjoy the holy dip throughout the stretch.
Lohri is celebrated on a large scale in Punjab, where people gather to light a huge Bonfire. Sweets and rice are thrown in the bonfires and people perform the famous Bangda dance around the bonfire. People enjoy special cuisine like Kheer, Khichdi and Jaggery. January is considered to be one the coldest month in Punjab, dancing around a Bonfire also makes it pleasant apart from the traditional belief.
In Maharashtra, people celebrate this festival by exchanging a multi colored sweet til-gud (a sweet made of sesame seed and Jaggery) and wishing each other to bury all the hatchets and speak words which are as sweet as Jaggery, greeting each other by saying ‘til-gud ghya, goad goad bola’.
This marks a new and fresh beginning to someone’s life. Women prepare Puran Poli, an Indian bread stuffed with sweet and several other ingredients. It’s a cuisine exclusively for Lunch. Married Maharashtrian women also celebrate it by organizing Haldi-Kumkum (a ceremony of applying vermilion and turmeric to the forehead). It is basically a get together where women wear Ethnic Sarees mostly symbolizing the Maharastrian tradition. They offer gifts which complements spirituality like Essence sticks, holy books, and pictures of God or household stuffs like Utensils, Soaps etc.
In Gujarat, Makar-Sankranti is commonly known as ‘Uttarayan’. Uttarayan in Gujarat is mainly associated with flying Kites, so much so that there is an International Kite festival in Gujarat which is celebrated on a mass scale. During Uttarayan, Girls are dressed in classy Lehengas and Salwar suits & men in smart Kurtas and pajamas while, Elders give gifts to the younger in the family and thus a social Liaison in the family is maintained.
In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, The Festival is known as Pongal. Pongal literally means boiling. On the auspicious day, the rice is boiled with a pot of milk in the open sunlight. The dish is dedicated to the God Sun. Pongal festival is celebrated throughout 4 days and each day has its own importance and the festival is very popular among Farmers. The festival is Pongal has more significance than Diwali in Tamil Nadu as it marks a start of the new harvesting period, perhaps for Rice (the staple food of Tamil Nadu).
In Nepal, a large Proportion of population is Hindu observant and hence Maghe Sankranti (Indian Makar Sankranti) is celebrated with great Fanfare. According to Nepali Calendar, Maghe Sankranti is the first day of the month of Magh of Bikram Sambat. Magh is the tenth month in the year. People take bath in holy rivers and have til ka laddu similar to Maharashtrian til-gud.
Every state has its own way of celebrating this festival and this celebration has its own Cultural, religious and Astrological significance which makes festival as a perfect example of a phrase ‘Unity in Diversity’.