Saturday, January 12, 2008


Makar Sankranti marks the commencement of the Sun's journey to the Northern Hemisphere (Makara raasi ), signifying the onset of Uttarayana Punyakalam, and is a day of celebration all over the country. The day begins with people taking holy dips in the waters and worshipping the Sun.

Traditionally, this period is considered an auspicious time and the veteran Bhishma of Mahabharata chose to die during this period. Bhishma fell to the arrows of Arjun. With his boon to choose the time of his death, he waited on a bed of arrows to depart from this world only during this period. It is believed that those who die in this period have no rebirth.

The Indo Gangetic plain begins this day with taking dips in the Ganga 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. According to folklore, girls who take the holy dip get handsome husbands and boys get beautiful brides.

Til and Rice are two important ingredients of this festival. In the rice-eating belt of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, people have a special rice-centric meal on this day. Also known as Gangasagar Mela, on this day, people come from all over India for a ceremonial cleansing in the river Hooghly, near Calcutta.

Maharashtra -
when two persons greet each other on this festive day, they exchange a few grains of multi-coloured sugar and fried til mixed with molasses and say "til gud ghya, god god bola" (henceforth, let there be only friendship and good thoughts between us).
Gujarat -

the pandits consider Sankranti as an auspicious day to grant scholarships and certificates of merit to students who have successfully completed their studies in philosophy. In a Hindu household, new utensils are purchased and used for the first time. Brightly coloured kites dot the skies on this day.

Karnataka -
men, women and children attired in colourful tunics visit friends and relatives and exchange pieces of sugarcane, a mixture of fried til, molasses, pieces of dry coconut, peanuts and fried gram. The significance of this exchange is that sweetness should prevail in all the dealings. As part of the festival, cows and bulls are given a wash and the horns are painted with bright colours and decorated with garland, and are taken in a procession in the village to the accompaniment of pipes and drums. In the night a bonfire is lit and the animals are made to jump over the fire.
It is a big event for the Tamils and the people of Andhra Pradesh. The Telugus like to call it 'Pedda Panduga' meaning big festival. The whole event lasts for four days, the first day Bhogi, the second day Sankranti, the third day Kanuma and the fourth day, Mukkanuma.
One month preceeding Sankranti is called Dhanurmasam and is also an auspicious period. People wake up early, take bath and go around the streets singing devotional songs. Houses are whitewashed and farmers clean their warehouses. Colorful rangoli (muggulu) are drawn in the front yards of every house during this month. These artistic floral designs are drawn on the floor with rice flour or fine powder from limestone. These patterns are decorated with marigold placed on cowdung balls. Colorfully dressed young girls go round them singing songs.

The Makar Sankranti is a famous festival of the Hindus and the Nepalese. It is celebrated in mid-winter and marks the transition of the sun from the Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Every twelve years the popular Kumbh Mela is held during Makar Sankranti where people from all over the country flock, to dedicate pujas in the banks of the River Ganges.

During the time of ‘Uttarayan’, it is said that father Sun visits the house of his son and this time marks the strong bonding between the father and son. It is also said that during this time Lord Vishnu slayed terrorism of the Ashuras and Bhagirath offered ‘Tarpan’ (praying for the forefathers) to Ganga to liberate his ancestors from the curse. The basic representation is simple, that even if we are severed from the roots but with the passing of time we soon get back to the good elements, which are present in us.

The main rituals of Makar Sankranti are that people taking dip in the Ganges or any other river to wash off their sins and attain ‘punya’ (freeing oneself from sins). They also offer ‘tarpan’ for their ancestors. But before performing all these rituals it is necessary to pray early in the morning, before sunrise. The farmers also dedicate special pujas as a mark of thanks giving for good harvest.

When does the Festival Start?

Unlike the other festivals, which are based on the lunar calendar, the Hindus celebrate the Makar Sankranti based on the solar calendar. The festival shows the sun’s sojourn to the northern hemisphere. Usually the first six months of the year shares long days but short nights, whereas the next six months share short days and long nights. The first period is known as the Uttarayan, which means north, that is, the sun moves north from the center of the sky. The second period is famously known as the Dakshinaayaria, which means south, that is, the sun moves southwards during this time. The celebration of the Makar Sankranti starts on the first day of Uttarayan.

The Celebrations

The food prepared during Makar Sankranti enables to keep the body warm and produce energy. Since the puja is undertaken during the winter times therefore the food is really helpful. The state of Andhra Pradesh in Southern India celebrates the festival with much pomp and vigor for three consecutive days.

In West Bengal, Makar Sankranti is popularly known as the ‘Gangasagar Mela’. People flock at the banks of the river Ganges and take dip to attain ‘punya’. In Gujarat the festival is celebrated by flying kites in the sky. In Maharashtra, people exchange Tilachir Ladoo, which actually tastes very sweet. The women wear a kind of black sari, which is known as the Chandrakala.

The Punjabis commemorate the occasion by lighting a bonfire and throwing rice, sweets and sugarcane. The next day they celebrate Maghi in which they perform the Bhangra dance. The Assamese celebrate Bhogali Bihu during this time. In Northern part of India, the Kumbh Mela (the largest fair in the world) is held at the confluence of Yamuna, Ganges and Saraswati Rivers. In Kerala, the people celebrate Pongal in which a cow or bathe, then a tilak is put on it and beads and ornaments are put round the horns and the neck. Thus, the Makar Sankranti is celebrated with much dedication and faith all over India.

Why is Makar Sankranti always on the 14th of January?

Makar Sankranti falls on the day of the year when the sun-considered the king of all grahas (planets)-is in the rashi (zodiac sign) known as Makar (Capricorn). This is considered the most beneficial and auspicious zodiac of the sun. The calculations for determining Makar Sankranti are done according to the solar calendar. Therefore, Makar Sankranti always falls on the 14th January according to the English calendar. It is usually the month of Magh of the Hindu calendar, the 'Tithi' or the position of the moon keeps shifting because of the difference in calculations.

In the north, this festival is called Lohri: The Bonfire Festival
It is celebrated by both children and adults. In the morning on Lohri day, children go from door to door singing and demanding the Lohri 'loot' in the form of money and eatables like til (sesame) seeds, peanuts, jaggery, or sweets like Gajak, rewri, etc. They sing in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi avatar of Robin Hood who robbed the rich to help the poor, and once helped a miserable village girl out of her misery by getting her married off like his own sister.

The Bonfire Ritual - In the evening, with the setting of the sun, huge bonfires are lit in the harvested fields and in the front yards of houses and people gather around the rising flames, circle around (parikrama) the bonfire and throw puffed rice, popcorn and other munchies into the fire, shouting "Aadar aye dilather jaye" (May honor come and poverty vanish!), and sing popular folk songs. This is a sort of prayer to Agni, the fire god, to bless the land with abundance and prosperity. After the parikrama, people meet friends and relatives, exchange greetings and gifts, and distribute prasad (offerings made to god). The prasad comprises five main items: til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn. Winter savories are served around the bonfire with the traditional dinner of makki-ki-roti (multi-millet hand-rolled bread) and sarson-ka-saag (cooked mustard herbs).

Song & Dance - Bhangra dance by men begins after the offering to the bonfire. Dancing continues till late night with new groups joining in amid the beat of drums. Traditionally, women do not join Bhangra. They hold a separate bonfire in their courtyard orbiting it with the graceful gidda dance.

In the south, Sankranti becomes Pongal, a harvest festival.
Cows and bulls are decorated and taken in procession around villages. The first rice of the new harvest is ritually offered to the sun god and cooked in different ways to symbolise plenty. The food cooked for such feasts is also offered to the cows on that day. The special sweets made on this occasion are Sakkami Pongal or rice cooked in jaggery and Ven Pongal or rice cooked with green gram, nuts and ghee. The season of Sankranti ends with Ratha Saptami, the seventh day of the bright half of Magh, when the sun and his golden chariot are honoured.

West Bengal - last day of the Bengali month of Poush
Thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the country gather at Gangasagar, the point where the holy river Ganges meets the sea, to take a dip and wash away all the earthly sins.

Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu is Assam's one of the most important festivals.
Cutting across the bars of class and caste, it celebrated by all and sundry. Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu (derived from the word 'Bhoga' meaning eating or enjoyment) is celebrated when the harvesting is over. It is a harvest festival.
On the eve of Bihu day, called "Uruka", women prepare rice cakes and other refreshments and young men build a temporary shelter in the open, collect firewood, often by stealing, which is permissible on this occasion, for a bonfire
The most significant part of this day is the building of 'Meji' - a structure built of logs of wood placed in pairs, tier above tier till they rise to considerable heights and present the appearance of a lofty temple. The whole night is spent in feasting, merry - making dancing and singing.

The half-burnt sticks and ashes of the meji are strewn on the fields and at the root of the fruit trees as they are believed to increase fertility.
In Gujarat and the other western states, Uttarayana
The change in the direction of winds at this time of the year. It is marked by thousands of colourful kites which dot the clear blue sky. Young men vie with each other to win community kite-flying competitions and then come home to a special winter feast in the evening. In these states, January is a month for eating newly-sprouted vegetables, sweets made of milk and fruits of the season.

ln Maharashtra, Karnataka as well as parts of Andhra, Makar Sankranti
A day of goodwill and friendship. Sesame chikki ladoos and sugardrops are distributed by everyone as a symbol of the need to be generous and kind to everyone Women wear new clothes, new glass bangles and hold get-togethers to share sweets and gifts. A new bride is given ornaments made of sugardrops and her new relatives are invited to meet and welcome her at Haldi Kumkum celebration. In rural Maharashtra, Sankranti brings in feasts when tender Jowar is eaten with salt and lemon juice, as well as fresh vegetables, guavas, custard apples, grapes, oranges and other fruits of the season.


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