Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Contributed by Acharya Satyam Sharma Shastri
Montagne-Blanche Village, Mauritius
Sankranti means to go from one place to another place (to change direction). It also means one meets another. The time when the sun changes direction from one constellation (of the zodiac) to another is known as Sankranti.
Transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana) is known as Makar sankranti.
Solar Year – Importance of the Sun
There are 12 signs of the zodiac. There are 12 Sankrantis as well. They are given names according to the position of the sun in relation to the signs of the zodiac. Each of the 12 Sankrantis has its relevant importance but two of these are most prominent.
These two are Mesh Sankranti and Makar Sankranti (Aries and Capricorn).The solar year commences when the sun is in Aries (the first sign of the zodiac). From the point of view of mathematical calculations, the solar year is more scientific than the lunar year. One lunar year has 354 days only and lunar days (or nights) increase or decrease according to the phases of the moon. Compare this to the solar year which has 365 ¼ days and remains the same. Many astrological books are based upon solar calculations. The sun is the most important and the most prominent of our stars and the undisputed lord of our planetary system. The sun always comes first. First day of the week commences with Sunday (Ravi).
Science attaches great importance to the sun. The sun is the inexhaustible storehouse and the source of light and energy. Without sunlight creatures and vegetation would cease to exist. People will lose their life sustaining vitality. Lack of nourishing substances would lead to the end of creation. This is why the sun’s existence, movements and positions in the cosmos are so important and that is why the sun earns our respect, admiration and reverence.
The solar year commences when the sun is in Aries (the first sign of the zodiac). During this auspicious period, great deal of merits are acquired by performing Havan (Yajna or Sacred Fire ceremony), Japa (repetition of Mantra or God’s name), Shraddha, Charity etc. Householders top up their grain jars and families start wedding preparations for their sons and daughters of marriageable age.
The second Sankranti of great importance is Makar. Transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana) is known as Makar sankranti. The sun and journeys northward. The days are gradually lengthening in the northern hemisphere.
Makar Sankranti is also known as KHICHADI (Indian dish made from rice and lentils) Sankranti because on this day the injunction to eat Khichadi , is generally observed by people. Seasonal crops become available. Ghee, and spices are used for making tasty nourishing Khichadi. Winter loosens its grip on shiver producing cold, admitting springtime that brings with it the chance for all round health improvement.
In addition to Khichadi, great importance is attached to the use of TIL (Sesame seeds) during Makar Sankranti. Therefore, this Sankranti is also called TIL Sankranti. People make Laddoos (round balls) from Til. Til oil is used for massaging.
Six types of usage of Til are described. Til is used for Bathing, for Massaging, for Havan (sacred fire ceremony), Tarpan with Til (oblations of water with Til), Til used as food, and Til is donated in charity.
It is said that Til emanates from Vishnu’s body and that the above described usage wash away all kinds of sins. Sankranti period is held to be very auspicious and any good deeds during this time will produce merits. Gifts of clothing, blankets etc., on this day are productive of merits in both this life and in the next life.
Kite Flying Day
Makar Sankranti is also celebrated with great enthusiasm as the Kite flying day.
Gangasagar and Surya Puja
At Sankranti time great importance is attached to Ganga snaan (bathing with waters of the river Ganges) and Surya Puja (worshipping the sun). Bathing, worshipping gods, Havan, Japa, Fasting and Charity; each of these are extremely holy deeds.
From Makar Sankranti onwards when the sun is travelling northwards, innumerable auspicious things start happening. Climate and atmosphere improve. Children born during this period are naturally progressive, well mannered, pleasant and of noble disposition.
The Bhagavad Gita mentions the importance of the northern path of the sun at the time of death. This was the reason why Grandsire Bhishma, who was wounded in battle and in semi conscious state, while lying on the bed of arrows, chose to wait it out, awaiting the northward path of the sun, before choosing to die.
All such special reasons make the northward journey of the sun sacred and auspicious at Makar Sankranti.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MAKAR-SANKRANTI
Makar Sankranti is a mid-winter festival of India and Nepal. The festival is celebrated to mark the transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana). The famous Kumbh Mela is also held on Makar Sankranti every 12 years
The festival is celebrated by taking dips in the Ganga or any river and offering water to the Sun god. The dip is said to purify the self and bestow punya. Special puja is offered as a thanksgiving for good harvest.
Since the festival is celebrated in the mid winter, the food prepared for this festival are such that they keep the body warm and give high energy. Laddu of til made with sugarcane juice is specialty of the festival.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated all over India and Nepal with some some regional variations:
In North India,
Punjab - Lohri
West Bengal and Assam - Bhogali Bihu
Gujarat and Rajastan - Uttarayan (Kite flying festival)
In South India,
In Kerala and Tamilnadu - Pongal
In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh - Sankranthi
Other parts of India as Makara Sankranti
Tharu people - Maghi
Other people - Maghe Sankranti or Maghe Sakrati
Many Melas or fairs are held on Makar Sankranti the most famous being the Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years at one of four holy locations, namely Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nashik. The Magh Mela (or mini-Kumbh Mela held annually at Prayag) and the Gangasagar Mela (held at the head of the Ganges River, where it flows into the Bay of Bengal).
Makar Sankranti falls on January 14 on non-leap years and on January 15 on leap years. It is the only Hindu festival which is based on the Solar calendar rather than the Lunar calendar. The day is a holiday in the state of Gujarat.
Makara Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimale where the Makara Jyothi is visible followed by the Makara Vilakku celebrations.
Kite flying festival
The festival is celebrated by the flying of kites in most of northern India.
Kites are flown for most of the day in the region. The objective of this sport is to cut as many rival kites as possible to attain air superiority. Additionally, a cut kite may be also picked up by another kite giving the collector a free kite. The diamond shaped kites come in various designs. The thread, known as manja is sharpened with finely crushed glass pieces. The season also is perfect for spending a day in a sun. The season is windy, making it ideal for kite flying. At night special lantern kites with candles embedded are flown which give the skies an eerie feeling.
In Maharashtra, when two Maharashtrians greet each other or visit each other during Makar Sankranti, they exchange Tilache Ladoo - a special sweet made for this day. When they give the ladoo to an elder they do namaskar and say "til gul ghya, ani god god bola" (let us be sweet to each other and let friendship prevail between us). Til or sesame seeds is one of the important ingredients in this festival. The married ladies in Maharashtra arrange "haldi kum kum", an auspicious religious get together by way of which they call upon their friends and relatives and distribute sweets and gifts.
In Gujarat and Rajasthan
Uttarayan, also known as Makar sankranti, is a kite-flying festival celebrated annually on January 14 in Western India; it is a public holiday in Gujarat and Rajasthan. According to Indian astronomy, Uttarayan is the day when the Sun moves to the Northern hemisphere ("Uttara" means North, and "-yana" means to go). This day also is celebrated as Pongal in southern India.
The kites used are prepared from thin paper and crafted carefully using bamboo sticks. Kite-making businesses usually employ Muslims, who are known for their kite-making ability. The thread used to make kites airborne is specially prepared using "lugdi" and cotton thread, coated with a mix of adhesive and fine glass powder that is dried over time. Thread prepared in cities of Surat and Bareli is famous for its durability.
In the state of Gujarat, kite flying is considered an art. Kite fighting is a traditional Uttarayana activity: the kite flyer must keep his kite aloft while others attempt to sever his thread using their own kites. When someone wins the kite fight, his group celerates with cheerful shouts and drum beatings. It is a common scene to see people play music, dance and socialize freely.
Traditionally the menfolk do the flying and women hold the "Firki" meaning the spool of thread by standing behind the man. They also tie the thread on the kites and keep them ready for the man for unending kiteflying session where the sky has turned into a battlefield and neighbours are enemies. But now the trend has changed and women and young girls also do the flying.
Due to the sun's heat generally all wear cap and sunglasses. They also keep loud speakers and music systems on their roof.
The next day 15th January is also celebrated as kite-flying day but it is called "Vasi Uttrayan". Where "vasi" is term that is used in Gujarati for older food. So as the festival has become older it is termed as "Vasi".
Traditionally, undhiyu (a mix of vegetables and green beans) and puri are served on the festival. Other traditional snacks include chikki (a sweet peanut bar) and fruits like berries and guava.
Once the sun sets, people watch can watch lanterns called Tukkal, flying. The day's winning kite is flown as Chinese lanterns are tied with thread. Today, celebrators also enjoy loud music and firecrackers in the everning.
The government of Gujarat has attempted to attract foreign tourists on the occasion by organizing a world kite flying festival.
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