- Culture & Society
Makar Sankranti: Celebration of Sun, Harvest, and Renewal
18 Jan 2024
From Uttarayan in Gujarat to Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra and Karnataka, Magh Bihu in Assam, Lohri in states of Punjab and Haryana, and Khichdi Parv in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, one harvest festival, known by various names across India. Makar Sankranti embodies the spirit of unity in diversity, showcasing India’s rich cultural landscape.
What is the significance of Makar Sankranti?
Makar Sankranti is primarily a harvest festival, celebrating the arrival of longer days and the end of the winter solstice. It is celebrated to mark the transition of the sun into the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makar in Sanskrit). This solar event usually occurs around January 14th or 15th each year and holds profound cultural, spiritual, and religious significance in India.
There are various significances of Makar Sankranti in Hinduism. Culturally it represents the marks of the harvesting season, symbolizing abundance and prosperity. It brings communities together. People engage in collective activities like kite-flying, bonfires, traditional dances, etc., fostering a sense of unity and togetherness.
Spiritually, Makar Sankranti is closely tied to the movement of the sun. Sun’s transition into the zodiac sign of Capricorn symbolizes the journey towards enlightenment, knowledge, and the triumph of light over darkness. It is considered a time of renewal and purification. Many take ritualistic dips in sacred rivers, such as the Ganges, believing that it cleanses them of sins and promotes spiritual well-being.
In Hinduism, Makar Sankranti is associated with the sun god Surya. Devotees offer prayers and perform rituals to honor the sun’s energy, which is considered vital for life and agriculture. It is believed that on this day, the deities begin their northward journey, signifying a shift in cosmic energies and the arrival of auspicious times.
How is Makar Sankranti celebrated across India?
Each region in India has its unique traditions, customs, and festive foods associated with the celebration.
- In states like Gujarat and Rajasthan, the festival is known as Uttarayan, celebrated with the Kite-Flying festival. On this day, the sky becomes a canvas of vibrant colors as people engage in friendly kite battles with full zest. Gujarat also hosts the International Kite Festival during Makar Sankranti in Ahmedabad, where kite enthusiasts from around the world participate in this grand celebration.
- Uttar Pradesh and Bihar also celebrate it with kite-flying competitions and sweets made of sesame seeds and jaggery, such as Tilgul and Revri.
- In Maharashtra, people exchange Tilgul, while saying, “Tilgul ghya, god god bola” (Take Tilgul and speak sweetly). Married women often host Haldi-Kumkum gatherings where they exchange gifts and apply turmeric and vermilion on Ajna Chakra between the Eyebrows.
- People in Karnataka prepare a special mixture called “Sankranti Ellu” made of sesame seeds, groundnuts, dry coconut, and jaggery. This mixture is exchanged among friends and family. In rural areas, cows are adorned with colorful garlands and worshipped as a symbol of gratitude for their role in agriculture.
- In Punjab and Haryana, the day preceding Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Lohri. People gather around bonfires, sing and dance, and enjoy traditional foods. Special dishes, including sarson da saag and makki di roti, are prepared and shared with family and neighbors.
- In Tamil Nadu, Pongal is a four-day harvest festival; families cook the Pongal dish, made with newly harvested rice, in earthen pots. Homes are adorned with colorful kolam (rangoli) designs, and cattle are decorated and honored for their contribution to agriculture.
- In West Bengal, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Poush Sankranti, where people take dips in holy rivers and offer prayers. The Ganga Sagar Mela is one of the largest fairs during Makar Sankranti.
- In Assam, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Magh Bihu. The festival is marked by traditional Assamese folk dances, and the Meji bonfire made of bamboo, thatch, and wood is set ablaze to mark the end of the harvesting season.
- In some tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhagoria Festival coincides with Makar Sankranti. It involves traditional dances, music, and matchmaking.
- Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Tusu Parab in Jharkhand. The festival is marked by the singing of Tusu songs, and Folk dances, which depict various aspects of rural life.
- The Makar Mela at Makar Jyoti in Konark is a significant event in Odisha. Pilgrims gather to take a dip in the Chandrabhaga River and offer prayers at the Konark Sun Temple.
- In Haryana, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Maghi. People take a dip in sacred rivers like the Sarasvati and participate in fairs and festivities.
- In Kerala, Makar Sankranti is associated with the culmination of the Sabarimala pilgrimage. Pilgrims visit the Sabarimala temple to seek the blessings of Lord Ayyappa. In Thiruvananthapuram, women participate in the Attukal Pongala, a ritualistic cooking of sweet rice porridge as an offering to the goddess.
- Andhra Pradesh and Telangana celebrate Bhogi, where people discard old and unnecessary items by burning them in a bonfire. It symbolizes the removal of the old and the welcoming of the new. Decorative rangoli patterns called Muggu are created at the entrance of homes, often using rice flour or colored powders.
Makar Sankranti is a truly unique and cherished festival across India. Each state adds its distinct rituals, traditions, and festivities to honor the spirit of the festival, keeping the central theme of expressing gratitude for the harvest and celebrating the sun’s transition.
Personal Perspective on Makar Sankranti
Being born in a Maharashtrian family, Makar Sankranti was synonymous with the sweet aroma of Tilgul, by saying ‘Tilgul ghya, god god bola’ and the exchange of gifts between friends and family. I vividly recall the early morning rituals, the scent of incense, and the warmth of the sun on my face as we offered prayers to Surya Dev. Through Tilgul, kites, and age-old traditions, the festival connects us to our roots, creating a blossom of memories that we carry with us.
Black is considered inauspicious by Hindu ideologies. However, it is kind of customary to wear a black color outfit on Makar Sankranti to fight back evil. So in Maharashtra, women wear black sarees during the Haldi-Kumkum ceremony. And as it is still cold in mid-January, people must wear black as it absorbs heat and keeps them warm, which could be another significance.
As I live in Germany, It’s nearly hard to see the sun in January. On this day, I woke up early and took a Ubtan bath. After that, I offered prayers to lord Surya through prayers and mediation. I performed a Surya namaskar and decided to fast to purify my body inside. Later, I went for a long walk in the fresh air to feel connected to nature.
Sometimes the greatest fulfillment in life comes from simple everyday routines. And this is the greatest luxury in life, in my opinion. Morning rituals, mindful eating, staying active throughout the day, practicing mindfulness and meditation, connecting with nature, and engaging in activities that boost creativity are some joyful things.
Makar Sankranti, marking a transition and new beginnings, can be an excellent time to start incorporating healthy habits into our lifestyle. The journey towards a healthier lifestyle is a personal and ongoing one, we can start with one or two habits, gradually incorporating more over time.
I wish you all a prosperous Makar Sankranti, let it inspire us to release the weights of the past, spread our wings, and soar toward a brighter horizon, where endless possibilities await our courageous journey forward…
Written by: Vrushali Sambare
Cover Photo: Canva
Other Photos: Canva
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