Makar Sankranti is one of the most auspicious day for the Hindus, and is celebrated in almost all parts of the country in myriad cultural forms, with great devotion, fervor & gaiety. The festival of Makar Sankrant traditionally coincides with the beginning of the Sun’s northward journey (the Uttarayan) when it enters the sign of Makar (the Capricorn). It falls on the 14th of January every year according to the Solar Calendar. Lakhs of people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar & Prayag and pray to Lord Sun.
The festival of Makar Sankranti marks the change of the Sun into Makara Rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. The festival is highly regarded by Hindus from North India to down in South India. The day is also known by various names and various traditions are witnessed as one experiences the festival in different states.
Though extremely popular as Makar Sankranti, the festival is predominantly a harvest festival and is celebrated throughout India, from north to south and east to west. While Makar Sankranti is most popular in West India, down south, the festival is known as Pongal and in the north, it is celebrated as Lohri. Uttarayan, Maghi, Khichdi are some other names of the same festival. In Gujarat, celebrations are huge as people offer colorful oblations to the Sun in the form of beautiful kites. It stands as a metaphor for reaching to their beloved God.
In Uttar Pradesh, Sankrant is called ‘Khichiri’. Taking a dip in the holy rivers on this day is regarded as most auspicious. A big one-month long ‘Magha-Mela’ fair begins at Prayag (Allahabad) on this occasion. Apart from Triveni, ritual bathing also takes place at many places like Haridvar and Garh Mukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna in Bihar.
In Bengal every year a very big Mela 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. In Maharashtra on the Sankranti day people exchange multi-colored tilguds made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery.
In Gujarat there is a custom of giving gifts to relatives. The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy. Kite flying has been associated with this festival in a big way. It has become an internationally well-known event.
Makar Sankranti is the festival of til-gul where sesame and jaggery laddoos or chikkis are distributed among all. They are generally accompanied by the saying, “Til-gul ghya ani gud gud bola”, which translates to ‘eat these sesame seeds and jaggery and speak sweet words’. The festival is one of bonding where every member of society is asked to bury the hatchet with enemies and foes and live in peace. Also, it is a superstition that during the festival, the Sun God forgets his anger on his son Shani and visits him. Thus, by distributing sweets, everyone is asked to spread joy around. Also, since the festival falls in winter, eating of sesame and jaggery is considered beneficial to health as they are warm foods. Thus, it is specifically this sweet that’s distributed as it signifies bonding and good health.
There is a very interesting reason behind the kite-flying. Kite-flying in olden days was generally done in the early hours of the morning, when the sun’s rays were bright but not too harsh. Also, during kite-flying, the human body was exposed to the sun for long hours. The early morning sun is considered beneficial for the skin and body. Since winter is also the time of a lot of infections and sickness, by basking in the sun, Hindus believed that the bad bacteria on their bodies would be cleared to a certain extent. Creating a fun way of sun basking where no one would even realise they were reaping benefits was through kite flying.
Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival celebrated in India, Nepal and parts of Bangladesh in various cultural forms. It is one of the most auspicious days for Hindus all over India and in other countries. It is celebrated with pomp and devotion in almost all the states of India in various forms.
People discard old things for new ones, forget old enmities and pray to god and offer food to their ancestors with the start of the harvesting season and end of the winter months. People attend holy fairs like the ‘Kumbh Mela’ in Prayag and the ‘Gangasagar Mela’ at the junction of River Ganges and the Bay of Bengal and take a dip in the holy waters to wash off their sins. Celebration & Rituals in Various Parts ‘Makar Sankranti’ celebrations take on different names and hues in different region of India.
Delhi and Haryana – The people in these places celebrate the ‘Sakraat’ or ‘Sankranti’ festival with ‘halwa’, ‘kheer’ and ‘ghee’ while men visit their sisters’ homes with gifts. The women sing folk songs giving away gifts known as ‘Manana’ to their in-laws. –
Karnataka – The festival is called ‘Suggi’ here. Girls wear new clothes and exchange plates containing a mixture of white sesame seeds, dried coconut, groundnuts and jaggery with other families. Women also create beautiful designs with multi-colored powder on the ground. The cattle are decorated and taken out in processions called ‘Kichchu Haayisuvudu’.
Himachal Pradesh – During the festival known as ‘Magha Saaji’ in this region, people get up early in the morning, have a bath at the springs and visit their neighbors. They gather at temples to pray and enjoy ‘khichdi’ with ‘chach’ and ‘ghee’. During the evening people participate in folk dance known as ‘Naati’ accompanied by singing.
Kerala – People attend the ‘Makaravilakku’ celebrations at the pilgrimage spot of ‘Sabarimala’ and see the star of ‘Makara Jyoti’ and get the blessings of ‘Lord Ayyappan’.
Uttarakhand – During ‘Makar Sankranti’ people have a bath in holy rivers, attend fairs, and distribute ‘khichdi’. Children wear necklaces of beads of various forms which have been designed out of ‘ghee’ and flour’ sweetened with ‘gur’ and sing songs early in the morning to welcome back the migratory birds during ‘Kale Kauva’ or ‘Ghunghutia’ celebrations.
Punjab – In this region the festival is known as ‘Maghi Sangrand’ in which the people have an early bath and light sesame oil lamps to drive away evil, wash away sins and bring prosperity. They participate in their famous ‘bhangra’ dances and enjoy having ‘khichdi’ jiggery and ‘kheer. The people light big bonfires in the evenings and sing and dance around it.
Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – The people of these states celebrate ‘Makar Sanranti’ by having local delicacies like ‘pheerni’ ‘kheer’, ‘pakodi’, ‘laddoo’ and other such stuff. Married women exchange gifts while others give gifts, fruits, ‘khichdi’ and such things in charity. People fill the skies with kites and try to bring down the kites of others. –
West Bengal – The people of this state celebrate ‘Makar Sankranti’ as ‘Poush Sankranti’ with sweets known as ‘pitha’ and worship ‘Godess Lakshmi’ on this day.
People living in the hills of Darjeeling call this festival ‘Magey Sanrati’ and worship ‘Lord Shiva’. People from all parts of the country gather at the ‘Ganga Sagar Mela’ to take a dip and pray.