Makarasankranti is the famous Indian festival which is celebrated allover India in various forms with great dedication, devotion and fun. It is highly regarded by the Hindus from North to South and East to West. This is also a festival which has mythological, ecological and medical significance. Perhaps this is the only Hindu festival in India which is celebrated on the exact date of 14th January.
Why it is celebrated
(Sun’s movement in zodiac signs is called as Sanskranti.)
Makarasankranti is the day when the glorious Sun-God begins its control and entry into the Northern Hemisphere from Southern Hemisphere. According to Indian tradition, this astronomical confederation is known as Uttarayana. Here Uttara is Northern and Ayana is movement which also gives the same meaning as above. In Hindu tradition the same concept is well-known as ‘the Sun moves from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana’. This movement of Sun takes place in the month of Poush which falls in mid-January. Moreover, according to the lunar calendar the sun moves from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn.
When it is celebrated
The festival is celebrated on 14th January. Previous day is called as Bhogi and next is Kinkranti. Bhogi is the day mainly for the pre celebration of the festival. On the day of Bhogi it is advisable to eat and use sesame in regular diet. And Kinkranti, the name of next day is mainly known as the co goddess of Goddess Sankranti.
Name of the festival
The explanation of the title of the festival can be given as – the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti. As the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac which is known as Makar in Sanskrit, this occasion is named as Makarasankranti in the Indian context. Ayan in the word Uttarayan or Dakshinayana is the movement of sun, and so festival is also known as Ayanasankranti.
Deities of the festival
Sun is the deity of Makarasankranti festival. To Hindus, the Sun stands for knowledge, spiritual light and wisdom. Festival signifies that one should turn away from the darkness of delusion and begin to enjoy a new life with bright light within us to shine brighter. The festival signifies an event wherein the Sun-God bestows the massage ‘Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya’. It means, ‘may you go higher & higher, to more & more Light and never to Darkness’.
Worship of Sun continues till the Rathasaptami, seventh day of the first half of Magha month. On the day of Rathasaptami, one should take bath in early morning and offer arghya (water) to sun and recite following verse,
In the lunar calendar Sankranti is considered as the goddess of festival. She is described as,
(Goddess Sankranti who is extended over sixty yojana with long lips and nose, with one head and nine hands has man like figure.)
According to lunar calendar, her vehicle, weapon, age, status, ornaments, food and name is different in every year. She arrives and departs from certain direction. Also she looks at certain direction. It is believed as from the directions she comes and looks is bestow prosperity. On the other hand where she departs that direction attend destruction.
In 2012, Hindu lunar calendar described Goddess Sankranti as ‘Goddess namely Nanda, who is riding on buffalo and camel, wearing blue garment and blue jewel, old and in seating position, who is eating curd arrived from south and moves towards north while looking at northeast.
The goddess killed Sankarasura on the festival day and Kinkarasura on the second day. Hence second day is known as Kinkranti.
Legend from scriptures
In Vedic times, Uttarayan was known as Devayan and Dakshinayan as Pitriyan. According to Hindu calendar, in the month of Poush, previous month of Makarasankranti, Gods go to sleep and therefore no auspicious works are advised in this month. But Gods awake in the month of Magh, starting from Makarasankranti and is advisable to all auspicious work.
Bhishmacharya of Mahabharata chosen to die during this period only. He fell to the arrows of Arjuna, one of the leaders of Mahabharata during the Great War. With the gains in the life he chosen the time of his death and waited on a bed of arrows to leave this world only during this period. It is believed that those who die in this period have no rebirth.
This festival was narrated by the sage Durvasa to Krupi, the wife of Dronacharya – teacher of Kourvas and Pandavas. This was practiced by her with the desire for son and prosperity. Hence the festival is also practiced for begetting a son.
How to celebrate Makarasankranti
Taking bath in water sources and giving donations has special importance in the celebration of Makarasankranti.
As it is marked as the inauspicious, the day begins with taking dips in the rivers and offering water to the Sun-God. The dip is said to purify the self and obtain ‘punya’. It is said that,
(The one who does not take bath on the day of Sankranti becomes sick and poor in next seven births.)
The act of donation is also suggested on the day. Hemadri has gives the importance of the donation in his vratakhanda as,
(O king, the one who gives cow with sesame in uttarayana, he obtains all the desires and happiness.)
In Devipurana, importance of donation is highlighted as,
(On the day of Makarasankranti, who donates and performs rituals for ancestors, he gains same objects in every birth by sun)
The use of sesame on the day of Makarasankranti is very significant allover India. Sesame seeds are used in various ways on the day such as donation and offering to god and also for eating.
In Shivarahasya the use of sesame is suggested as,
(On the day of Makarasankranti one should bathed with the paste of black sesame and water with sesame. On the occasion of Uttarayana sesame should be donated and lamp should be lighted of sesame oil in Shiva temple)
How it is celebrated in modern India
The festival is celebrated across India with great pleasure.
” Maharashtra – In Maharashtra, women worship goddess Sankranti, worship her in the form of Sugada (clay pot). Mainly sesame and jaggery laddus (sweets) are made on this day. People visit each other and gift tilgul (sweet laddu made by sesame and jaggery) and say tilgul ghya ani god god bola which means take the sweet and speak sweet. The day is also granted for the end of disputes and the beginning of new relations. Another sweet made on the day is gulpoli (roti made of jaggery). Previous day people bathe with water mixed with sesame and also eat food cooked with sesame.
” Gujarat – In Gujarat Makarasankranti is observed more or less in the same manner as in Maharashtra. A custom of giving gifts to relatives is more prevalent in Gujarat which is absent in Maharashtra. The elders in the family give gifts to the younger members of the family. The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy. Another attraction of Makarasankranti in Gujarat is kite festival in which people rides kites on the festival day with relatives and friends.
” Bengal – In Bengal every year a Mela (gathering) is held at Ganga Sagar where the river Ganga is believed to have dived into the nether region and vivified the ashes of the sixty thousand ancestors of King Bhagirath. This mela is attended by a large number of pilgrims from East India especially for the purificatory bath of Makarasankranti. Sweets made of sesame and jaggery are well-known in this part of India also.
” South India – In South Makarasankranti is known by the name of “Pongal”, which takes its name from the surging of rice boiled in a pot of milk. This festival has more significance than even Diwali in Tamil Nadu. It is very popular particularly amongst farmers. Rice and pulses cooked together in ghee and milk is offered to the family deity after the ritual worship. In Karnataka, festival is known as Sankranti and celebrated in the same manner of Maharashtra.
” North India – In Punjab on the eve of festival bonfire is performed which is known as “Lohri”. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfire, around which friends and relatives gather together. The following day, which is Makarasankranti is celebrated as Maghi. The famous Bhangra dance and special food are noteworthy things of the festival in this region.
” Central India – In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh this festival of Makarasankranti is known by the name “Sukarat” or “Sakarat”.
” Gangetic plain – In Uttar Pradesh, Makarasankranti is called “Kicheri” because Khicheri is particular food of this day. Having bath on this day is regarded as most important. A mass of public can be seen bathing in the Sangam at Prayagraj where the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi flow together.
” Himalayan region – Tribes from this region makes small replicas of crows and sparrows of wheat flour and fry it. Then they tie those as the garland in children’s neck on the festival day. On the second day those replicas are given to crows for eating. The belief is that, if it is done evil stays away from the children.
The festival of Makarasankranti marks the day when the sun begins its northward journey and enters the sign of Makar (the Capricorn) from the Tropic of Cancer. It is like the movement of sun from Dakshinayana (south) to Uttarayana (north) hemisphere. Makar Sankranti holds special significance as on this day the solar calendar measures the day and night to be of equal duration. From this day onwards, the days become longer and warmer. In other words, Makarasankranti marks the termination of winter season and beginning of spring season. Festival is celebrated in the admiration of above reasons.
On this day eatables made of sesame and jaggery are eaten and donated. According to Ayurveda, having sesame on Makarasankranti, prevents arthritis disorders. If sesame and jaggery, which are hot by nature, are not taken on this day, then people may have cough in spring season and arthritis may affect fast during rainy season. Another reason is, the weather during the festival is too dry and body needs some moisture, hence the use of sesame and products made of sesame is suggested. Sesame oil is considered as the best oil among all.
To sum up
This festival helps the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste and community. Kite festival in Gujarat, distributing tilgul to relatives, stoking a bonfire in north, collective baths are the occasions which bring people closer to each other on the festival day and makes relationships stronger.
” Mahadeva Shastri Joshi. 1970. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. VI. Pune. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.
” Sharma Brijendra Nath. 1978. Festivals of India. New Delhi. Abhinav Publishers.
” Bapat Tara. 1991. Rituals and Festivals of India. Mumbai. Popular Prakashan.
” Shastri Ravidatta. 1994. Dharmasindhu (with translation). Delhi. Choukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan.
” Sharma Mihirachandra. 1952. Nirnayasindhu. Lakhnow. Tejkumar Press.