What is Makar Sankranti?
Makar Sankranti or just Sankranti is celebrated in India by various groups of people for different reasons. In astrology it is day on which the sun moves into the house of Capricorn. The name of the festival comes from combination of the Hindi word for Capricorn- Makar and the word for the movement of earth from one zodiac in the sky to another- sankranti. The day is supposed to mark the winter solstice but since calculations for the lunar calendar are not made using the tropical (standard) time scheme it falls on the 14th of January, 21 days after the actual winter solstice.
Why do we celebrate Makar Sankranti?
There are many beliefs and much folk-lore behind the celebrations of this day. One is that on this day Vishnu ended the war between the Devas and Asuras which had been going on for millenia. So for some this marks the end of negativity and a start of the era of righteous living.
Another belief is that Bhishma, who was granted a boon by his father that he would die only when he willed it, decided to be released from his mortal form. Hence it is auspicious for people to begin physical and spiritual journeys on this day.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated by different names and customs in different parts of India. It is essentially a harvest festival celebrated with great fanfare. There are melas or fairs held in many regions but one of the traditions in particular is flying kites. People of all ages take to rooftops to fly kites in an act to get closer to God.
Kites come in various shapes and sizes and can be made of different types of materials. The most common type of kite is the diamond shaped kite that is light-weight and easy to fly. Have you ever flown a kite? Try it!
Click here to know a few amazing facts about the Festival of Kites.
The colourful kite-flying festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, which falls on January 14 each year, marks the end of a long winter and the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere. Hence the name Uttarayan.
According to Hindu astronomy, it is on this holiest day in the Hindu calendar, that the sun enters the zodiac of Makara or Capricorn, heralding the northern journey of the sun. The day is also of special significance, because on this day, the day and night are of equal hours.Celebrated since time immemorial, among Hindus all over India, the day finds a mention even in the epic Mahabharata. We are told that the warrior hero Bhishma Pitamah, even on being fatally wounded and lying on a bed of arrows, lingered on till Uttarayan set in, to breathe his last.
It is believed that the person who dies on his auspicious day escapes the cycle of birth and rebirth and that the soul mingles with the almighty.
Makar Sankranti heralds the arrival of spring, the season of fruitfulness and plenty. And nothing signifies this better than the soft seeds of til or sesame. Across India, housewives prepare sweetmeats made from til – whether it is a basic mixture of til and jaggery, or laddus, or the famous til-poli of Maharashtra. In the southern part of India, the day is celebrated as Pongal, where a fullsome meal of lentils and rice liberally dashed with ghee is offered to gods, and then to family members.
In the northern states, like Punjab, the festival is celebrated as Lohri, where the end of a bitter winter is marked with the burning of huge bonfires liberally fed with handfuls of til sweets, rice and sugarcane. In Uttar Pradesh, the festival is called Khichedi and a typical rice and lentil preparation (called Khichdi), with the mandatory dash of ghee, is offered not just to the Gods, but is also distributed among the poor.
Interestingly, this is a time of celebration for Muslims too. Just out of the month-long fasts of Ramzan, Muslims celebrate the festival of Id just a few days prior to Makar Sankranti. Prayers and hectic preparation of food and the famous seviyan, or vermicelli pudding cooked in milk mark the day which is a time to eat the best and wear the brightest. Its a time of plenty, and a time to give, especially to those who are needy.
The most colourful celebration of Makar Sankranti can be seen in the western states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Colourful kites dot the skies as each one attempts to outdo the other. As the sun sets, children and adults desperate to extend the day, add floating oil lanterns to the tails of their kites – a sight that brings to life the true meaning of the day: a return to light, to warmth, to the life-giving sun.
A famous Sanskrit Shloka that expresses it best reads:
Asato maa sadgamaya Tamaso maa jyotirgamaya Mrityoormaa amritam gamaya
Lead me, O Lord, from untruth to Truth from darkness to Light and from death to Immortality.