India is the most diverse nation on this planet. With its history older than history itself, it is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited place in the world. Dating back to 5000 BC this holy land has evolved many folds, but what it’s people has been able to do is remarkably astonishing that is they have been able to keep themselves attached to their roots. It is very wisely said that if you want to celebrate each and every moment of your life go and make India your permanent home. Hundreds of festivals and celebrations with them, the intensity of the celebration is such that it can totally change your view towards life. These festivals are symbol of India’s rich history and cultural heritage. One goes other comes. Be it beginning of the month or beginning of the season, moon eclipse or full moon almost every day is celebrated as an auspicious day. With every season We have new festivals. Like Ram Navami in summers, Rakshabandhan and Janmashtami in Monsoons, Diwali in winters and many more.
Many festivals in India are celebrated with accordance to the sun and the moon. One such festival based on Sun is Makar Sankranti. The only Indian festival which falls on a fixed date according to Gregorian calendar even when it is observed on the basis ancient Hindu culture. Although Sankranti comes once in every month and it is that day of the month when the sun moves or transits from one zodiac sign to other. Not all Sankranti dates are considered auspicious and celebrated like Sankranti.Unlike other Hindu festival which are observed on the basis of the position of the moon, Sankranti is based on the sun’s position. While on Sankranti the sun moves from one zodiac sign to other and the name of this holy festival has been derived from this astronomical phenomenon. This festival is known as Makar Sankranti because the Sun who is worshipped as a GOD in Hinduism, enters the Makar rashi which is known as the sun sign of Capricorn in English.
Basically a harvest festival it has many tales to tell about its origin. There are hundreds of stories related to its origin like one being that the Hindu god Sankranti killed a demon on this day to end his wrong doings. The other story behind the festival is that Yashoda Maa kept an intensive fast for getting Lord Krishna as his son. On the other side there is another religious tale which is about Gangawatran, which is about the coming of goddess Ganges on planet earth after intense penance done by King Bhagirath to wash the remains of his ancestors by her holy and pure water. It is said that happy and impressed with his penance Lord Brahma released Ganges on the day of Makar Sankranti and it was on this day that Ganga followed Bhagirath to the ocean, and this confluence of Ganges to the ocean is considered to be the prime reason for people taking holy dips in Gangasagar on Sankranti.
The festival of Makar Sankranti has its own significance in many ways and it is one of those festival which is celebrated with much preparations before and after hand. Along with the sesame sweets and various other traditional Indian foods are made and sometimes it also distributed among the saints and Brahmans. There are many important cultural gravities of Makar Sankranti. One being the belief that it brings holiness and from this day onwards you can start all of your auspicious works. It is believed that as the GOD sun provides the light and blessings so does his transition and movement. After sun transits from cancer to Capricorn. In Hindi it is also called Uttarayana derived from Sanskrit word meaning Movement toward north. Uttarayana is considered as very holy day by the Hindus all over the world as it is believed that it marks the beginning of holiness and a sense of purity around you.
Many Hindu families start their new things or work on this day as it is believed that any thing done in this phase would be more fruitful and beneficial. This claim of bringing the change in the environment and making it healthy along with auspiciousness and purity also has a scientific basis as the Sankranti (the movement of sun from one to other zodiac) brings a new change in the forces which the earth experiences from the Sun. This holy festival also marks the end of the winter solstice also considered as the inauspicious phase in Hinduism, is a scientific phenomenon when the days are short and nights are long. This marks the beginning of smaller nights and longer, but on Makar Sankranti it is believed that the day and night is equally long. The astronomical explanation for this is that the festival of Sankranti is celebrated when the sun crosses the equator and this marks the equinox of equal day and night. Night is considered as the time of demons who are known for sins while the day is known as the time of gods and good powers hence the day becoming longer has a great significance on increasing its purity and holiness.
Being the harvest festival it also has a great significance as the Hindus thank mother Earth for offering them a good harvest which they reap from it and pray her to give them a good harvest next time. We survive because our mother earth provided us food and shelter, and food is most important for our survival so this is the day which Hindu choose to offer a prayer in return to her. On this day the people all over the country acknowledge and thank everyone who assisted in their harvest. Big celebrations are organized in every part of the country and it is although a single festival but has so many different names and varies from one state to other. This harvest festival is known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, while Bihu in Assam like wise with different names in different states.
The other importance of this auspicious festival of Makar Sankranti is that it is the festival of friendship. It is believed that on this day Lord Surya (Sun) visits to his Son Shani with whom, according to the Hindu mythology he has a bad relationship, but on this day it is said that he forgets all of the bitterness with his son and visits him. Therefore, it is celebrated as the day of forgetting the wrong things. People on this day forget all the sourness and ill feelings towards each other. They also greet each other with special sweets of Makar Sankranti like til-gul which is believed to spread sweetness.
Makar Sankranti has a great cultural and spiritual impact on one’s life and the way of celebrating it varies from one place to other, here are some of the rituals performed across the different states of the country. No only in India but it is also observed and celebrated in other countries like Nepal, Thailand and other South-Asian countries.
Celebration in Different states of India
1. Punjab: In Punjab Makar Sankranti is observed as Lohri and Maghi. People take bath early in the morning and diyas are burnt with sesame seeds as it drives away all bad omens. A sumptuous meal including kheer and khichdi is eaten.in the evening people organize huge bonfires and do their traditional ‘Bhangra’ dance around it. Chikki, fulle (popcorn) and til delicacies are distributed among people.
2. Bihar and Jharkhand: In these states the day is called Khichdi or Sakrat in the local dialect. People wake up in the morning and take bath in rivers, Ganga, Sone, Gandak or Kosi else at home. They perform various puja rituals and then have a delicious heavy breakfast of DahiChiwda with pumpkin cooked in sugar and salt. The day is spent by women cooking the delicious Khichdi which is made from rice, dal and all the seasonal vegetables. It is eaten with its perfect complementaries called ‘char yaar’ ie. Chokha, Papad, Ghee and Achaar. Men spend the day flying kites. The dinner at night is a similar feast and Khichdi is made for dinner as well.
3. Assam: In Assam, this festival is very warmly welcomed and is called ‘Bihu’. It is basically a harvest festival when they harvest their rice farms. A huge celebration is held at night where in people make huts called ‘Meji’ out of bamboos and straws around a campfire in which they feast with various delicacies that are made. They worship the fire God and throw pithas in fire as Bhog. The next morning these huts are burned down as a gift for fire god. The day is spent in frolic playing regional games like pot breaking, buffallo fighting and bull fights etc.
4. Gujarat And Rajasthan: The festival is called Uttarayana in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The morning after performing rituals is spent eating delicious Undhiyu and Chikkis after which all the men rush out to fly kites. Gujarat hosts the biggest kite flying festival in the country and the skies are full of kites throughout the state. People shout ‘Kaypo Che’ after cutting threads of other’s ‘patang’ as it is called in Gujarati. This is the main attraction in the celebration of Gujarat. But kite flying competition is held there too and they too start the days with prayers. Various delicacies are made and a Sankranti bhoj is organised at night.
5. Maharashtra: IN Maharashtra, like Andhra Pradesh, Sankranti is a three-day festival. The first day is spent exchanging multicolored halwa and til gudladoos. People wish happiness to each other and a lavish lunch is eaten. Many people in cities fly kites too. On the second day women get together and observe ‘Haldi and Kumkum’ which is a symbol of purity and femininity. They wear black colored sarees as black absorbs heat in winters. Kite flying is widely observed and people worship the Sun God on this day.
6. Tamil Nadu: In Tamil Nadu, this day is observed as Pongal. Women make auspicious rangoli from white rice flour outside their houses. It is afour-day festival here. On the first day people burn all old clothes so as to mark the end of the old phase. On the second day, a special kind of kheer with jaggery and brown sugar is cooked. Conch shell is blown and fresh cooked grains are offered to the sun as a gesture of thanks. On the third day cattle are worshipped, fed and thanked for their help to farmers. On the final day, people go to meet their relatives and friends and thus the end is marked.
Why Do We Eat Til-Gul?
Makar Sankranti is the festival of Til-Gul. Through out the country Til-Gul is made in homes and eaten as well as shared with friends and neighbors. There are various reasons behind the consumption of Til-Gul on this day, some of which are scientific while some are religious. It is believed that the Sun God had become angry from his son Shani but on this day eating and distributing til gul makes his anger towards his son lessen and he forgets the past. Therefore, people distribute it in order to forget all previous fights and enmity and make a fresh start with this day.
Going by the scientific reason, since Makar Sankranti falls in harsh winters, the sesame seeds in til gul are said to keep the body warm and protected. Also due to it’s oily feature, sesame heals the dry skin and provides it a new life. It is also said to make one turn away from the darkness in the past and look on the brighter days ahead. Eating Til-Gul on Makar Sankranti is considered very auspicious. Also Sesame seeds (til) has a spiritual significance as it is believed that til absorbs all the negative energies within you and in return emits whole lot of positive energy or Shakti which increases your physical, mental and spiritual level.
Why Do We Fly Kites On This Day?
Kite flying on Makar Sankranti is almost an important ritual which is practiced through out the country. The state of Gujarat even hosts the international kite flying festival which is attended by people from around the world. The skies seem to be packed with colorful and bright kites. Almost every male member of the family takes part. When they manage to cut the other person’s rope, they yell ‘Kai Po Che’.
The scientific reason behind this ritual of kite flying is very interesting. During the season of harsh winters, our body gets dirty and infected. We tend to have cough, cold and other similar problems. The sun’s rays during the phase of Uttarayana are said to be having medicinal touch and they can heal the body completely of all the infections and problems. That is the main reason why people stay on their terraces and fly kites all day long until the sun is about to set. Such are the magical beliefs of Hinduism and this holy festival.
Ways to Celebrate Sankranti
While there are many ways of celebrating this spiritual festival but some of the rituals are followed almost everywhere like it is believed that taking a dip in holy rivers of India specially ‘The Ganges’ is very beneficial and meritorious. People from all corners of the country come in large number to holy Hindu cities like Varanasi, Allahabad, Nashik, Ujjain to take a dip in holy rivers to watch their sins and pray for better life ahead. These holy baths have also medical significance as the Himalayan rivers carry the water from the glaciers which are known to helpful for human body and skin. A holy dip in this holy river on Makar Sankranti yields great fruits in future both health and wealth wise.
Various sweets which are made across the county like til-gul is kept before one’s deity for retaining its divinity and power. Then it is distributed to people for their well being. Many type of sweets are made on this day as it is believed that sweets spread sweetness within mind and soul.
The people choose this day of Makar Sankranti to start donations and do charity work as it helps people apart from helping them too as it is believed that helping other people by providing them with food and distributing clothes will wash away all your sins and bring good times in your life ahead. Many women take a holy dip and pray to Lord Sun by applying haldi-kumkum for the long life of their husbands.
The whole day of Makar Sankranti is said to be filed with Chaitanya (Divine power) and this makes people offer something to everyone from plants to animals, every living being is treated with great gesture. The plants are offered with various tilaks and holy water primarily gangajal. The animals on the other hand are fed by young as a symbol of sharing their part for example cows which in Indian agriculture has a pivotal role is offered her share as it helps the farmers in their harvest.
Other remarkable thing is that it marks the beginning of the ‘Kumbh Mela’ in UP, it is said that the ‘Kumbh Mela’, where millions of people come just to take a dip into holy confluence of Ganges, Yamuna and lost Sarasvati, is the largest gathering of humans on this whole planet, such is the intensity of Makar Sankranti.
One very famous tale from Mahabharata goes like this: Bhishm Pitamah the great warrior prince, son of the King Shantanu and kin of Bharat from whose name this country gets its name was given a boon by his father that he can control his death and he will die only when he wants to ascend to heavens and leave this mortal world. The war of Mahabharata saw pandavas and kauravas fought against each other for the throne and this saw Pandavas winning and Bhishm Pitamah who fought for kauravas despite knowing that they are wrong due to his promise given to them chose to die after Arjun’s arrows pierced his body. He then chose this auspicious day of Makar Sankranti to leave this mortal world and die. It is also said that if a person dies on this day he attains ‘Moksha’ that is freedom of birth cycle and the phase where soul meets the divine soul (aatma ka Paramatma se milan)
What will we learn from Makar Sankranti in 2016?
This great festival teaches you all the lesson of life in a single day. Be it harmony and peace or spreading the unity, this great festival makes you alive in real sense. Our roots are attached to the nature, we are very much part of it and it rules upon us not the vice-versa. Such is the charisma of this holy festival that it creates a huge magnitude of celebrations not only in worldly things but also in mind, soul, body and heart, yet at such a huge magnitude it is able to maintain its simplicity. Life and Hope are although two different things but are attached through same string of rituals and rules. Life has various lessons to teach with these festivals and these festivals gives us a hope for a better life and better tomorrow. The unbreakable tradition of India and its its integral culture and heritage teaches us so many things to live up with. The great festival of Makar Sankranti gives us a lesson of unity; it tells us to forget all the hatred and live in harmony with each other as it also teaches us to craft our present with respect to our future.
Happy Makar Sankranti
Although Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival but it has various astronomical and spiritual importance. The great festival of Sankranti is celebrated to recognize the celebration, life, little joys, hope, survival, happiness and most important love. It teaches us the joy of performing rituals and their significance our daily life, the joy of giving, the joy of being still. The only thing that we can give back to this festival is that we can just stop for a moment and let every bad and negative thing inside us to go, let them move on and you can feel the joy of celebrating this great festival ‘Makar Sankranti 2017’.