Makar Sankranti is celebrated across the country in different ways and the cultural significance of the festival varies geographically as we move from one state to another, with every state celebrating and welcoming the new season of harvest in their own indigenous manner.
What makes the festival stand apart from the other Indian Hindu Festivals is the fact that the date of Makar Sankranti is fixed. Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti is transition.
There is a sankranti every month when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. In Hinduism, the Sun signifies light (knowledge, spirituality, and wisdom), unity, equality and true selflessness, the ideals of Karma Yoga. Sun goes on bestowing on us life, health & vitality without expecting any reward. Thus Makar Sankranti signifies shunning the darkness of delusion and allowing the light within shine brighter. It identifies a period of enlightenment, peace, prosperity and happiness after a period of darkness, ignorance and viciousness with immense sorrow. The message being ‘one should gradually begin to grow in purity, wisdom, and knowledge, as the sun does from this day and perform one's duties without expectations of rewards
The popular Indian festival “Makar Sankranti” is the first Indian festival falls in New Year.
The day of Makar Sankranti is the first of the big and holy bathing days of Hindu’s, takes place at sacred places for holy bathing such as Allahabad and Varanasi, Haridwar,Ujjain,Nashik and Sagar Island.
It is one of the major Indian harvest festival celebrated on 14th of January of every year. It’s an important festival of the Hindus and celebrated almost everywhere in the country in myriad cultural forms and different names. Every region celebrate it in innumerable ways, according to the localization, culture and traditions.
Reasons For Celebrating Makar Sankranti
The name has been derived from the word Sankramana in Sanskrit, meaning “commencement of movement”. Sankranti means transit of Sun from one zodiac sign to other. Makar Sankranti refers to the transition of the Sun from Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) to Makar rashi (Capricorn); and for this purpose, the sidereal zodiac signs are considered, thus accounting for the Earth’s precession of the equinoxes. The significance being from this day onwards, the days start becoming longer and warmer and thus the winter chill declines. Traditionally, this has been one of many harvest days in India. The festival is also referred to as Uttarayana as it marks the starting of northward journey of Sun. Many reasons are ascribed in our religious texts like the Puranas for the celebration of this festival, some of which are as mentioned below:
Starting the 14th January, Sun the father visits the house of his son Shani, who is the lord of Makar Rashi. They do not ordinarily get along nicely, but in spite of all the differences, Sun makes it a point to stay with his son at his house, for a month. This symbolises the importance of special relationship between the father and the son. Uttarayana also marks the beginning of the “day” for Devatas, while dakshinayana is said to be the “night” for Devatas, so most of the auspicious things are done during this time. It was on this day when Lord Vishnu ended the terrorism of Asuras by finishing them and burying their heads under the Mandar Mountains. Thus this occasion also represents the end of negativities and the beginning of an era of righteous living.
It was on this day that the great savior of his ancestors, Bhagirath did tarpana with the Ganges water for his unfortunate ancestors and thereby liberated them from the curse.
Another well-known fact is the reference of this day in Mahabharata. Bhishma, the great-grandsire of the Kauravas and Pandavas, had declared his intent to leave for the heavenly abode on this day.
Let's have a look at how it is celebrated across different regions of India
Delhi and Haryana
Delhi and Haryana and many neighbouring states consider Sakraat or Sankranti to be a main festival of the year.
Churma of ghee, halwa and kheer are cooked specially on this day. One brother of every married woman visits her home with a gift of some warm clothing for her and her husband's family. It is called "Sidha". Women used to give a gift to their in-laws, and this rituals called "Manana". The recipient will sit in a haweli (main palace where men sit together and share hookka). Women go to haweli to sing folk songs and give gifts.
In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Maghi. Bathing in a river in the early hours on Maghi is important. Hindus light lamps with sesame oil as this is supposed to give prosperity and drive away all sins. A major mela is held at Sri Muktsar Sahib on Maghi which commemorates a historical event in Sikh history.
Culturally, people dance their famous "bhangra". They then sit down and eat the sumptuous food that is specially prepared for the occasion. It is traditional to eat "kheer", rice cooked in milk and sugarcane juice. It is also traditional to consume khichdi and jaggery. December and January are the coldest months of the year in the Punjab. Maghi represents the change of the season to warmer temperatures and increase in daylight.
Rajasthan and West Madhya Pradesh
"Makar Sankrati" or "Sankrat" in the Rajasthani language is one of the major festivals in the state of Rajasthan. The day is celebrated with special Rajasthani delicacies and sweets such as pheeni (either with sweet milk or sugar syrup dipped), til-paati, gajak, kheer, ghevar, pakodi, puwa, and til-laddoo.
Specially, the women of this region observe a ritual in which they give any type of object (related to household, make-up or food) to 13 married women. The first Sankranti experienced by a married woman is of significance as she is invited by her parents and brothers to their houses with her husband for a big feast. People invite friends and relatives (specially their sisters and daughters) to their home for special festival meals (called as "Sankrant Bhoj"). People give out many kind of small gifts such as til-gud (jaggery), fruits, dry khichadi, etc. to Brahmins or the needy ones.
Kite flying is traditionally observed as a part of this festival.On this occasion the sky in Jaipur and Hadoti regions is filled with kites, and youngsters engage in contests trying to cut each other's strings
It is a four-day festival in Tamil Nadu.
Day 1 – Bhogi Pandigai (Bhogi)
It was on this day that the great savior of his ancestors, Bhagirath did tarpana with the Ganges water for his unfortunate ancestors and thereby liberated them from the curse.
The first day of festival is Bhogi Pandigai where Pandigai means celebrations. It is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials, by setting them on fire, marking the end of the old and the emergence of the new.
Day 2 – Pongal Pandigai (Also called as Thai Pongal or Sankranti)
The second day of festival is Pongal Pandigai. It is the main day, falling on the first day of the Tamil month “Thai”. On this day the cooking platform is cleaned and decorated. A new bronze pot is filled with fresh milk and kept on the fire. When the milk boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of “Ponggalo Ponggal” and add rice and jaggery to it. Later it is topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins. This symbolises that it was going to be a year blessed with good tidings. This tradition gives Pongal its name. This rice is offered to the Sun during sunrise along with turmeric, sugarcane, a gesture which symbolises thanks to the sun and nature for providing prosperity. It is later served to the people present in the house for the ceremony. People also prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, murukku, payasam etc.
Day 3 – Maattu Pongal Pandigai
The third day of festival is Maattu Pongal. It is for offering thanks to cattle, as they help farmer in agriculture. On this day the cattle are decorated with paint, flowers and bells. They are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane. Some people decorate the horns with gold or other metallic covers. In some places, Jallikattu, or taming the wild bull contest, is the main event of this day and this is mostly seen in the villages.
Day 4 – Kaanum Pongal
The fourth day of the festival is Kaanum Pongal (the word kaanum means “to view”). During this day people visit their relatives, friends to enjoy the festive season. This day is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. It started as a farmers festival, called as Uzhavar Thirunaal in Tamil.
It is a four day festival in Andhra Pradesh:
Day 1 – Bhogi Panduga (Bhogi)
The first day of festival is Bhogi. At dawn people light up a bonfire with several old articles in their house. In many families they celebrate Bhogi pallu, in the evening. These are the regi pallu with petals of flower and coins of money, will be put on the heads of kids (generally younger than 3 years to get rid of Drishti.
Day 2 – Pedda Panduga, Sankranti (Surya)
The second day is Sankranti, the big festival, when everyone wears new clothes and pray to their favourite God by offering them sweets.
Day 3 – Kanuma Panduga (Kanuma)
Kanuma Panduga (Kanuma) is less celebrated but is an integral part of Sankranti culture.
Day 4 – Mukkanuma
Mukkanuma is famous among the non-vegetarians of society. People do not eat any non-vegetarian during the first three days of the festival and eat it only on the day of Mukkanuma.
Magh Bihu also called Bhogali Bihu is a harvest festival celebrated in Assam, India, which marks the end of harvesting season in the month of Maagha (January–February).It is the Assam celebration of Sankranthi, with feasting lasting for a week.
The festival is marked by feasts and bonfires. Young people erect makeshift huts, known as meji, from bamboo, leaves and thatch, in which they eat the food prepared for the feast, and then burn the huts the next morning.The celebrations also feature traditional Assamese games such as tekeli bhonga (pot-breaking) and buffalo fighting. Magh Bihu celebrations start on the last day of the previous month, the month of "Pooh", usually the 29th of Pooh and usually the 14th of January, and is the only day of Magh Bihu in modern times (earlier, the festival would last for the whole month of Magh, and so the name Magh Bihu).The night before is "Uruka" (28th of Pooh), when people gather around a bonfire, cook dinner, and make merry.
During Magh Bihu people of Assam make cakes of rice with various names such as Shunga Pitha, Til Pitha etc. and some other sweets of coconut called Laru.
In Maharashtra on Makara Sankranti day people exchange multicoloured halwa (sugar granules coated in sugar syrup) and til-gul laadoo (sweetmeats made from sesame seeds and jaggery). Gulachi poli/puran poli (flat bread stuffed with soft/shredded jaggery mixed with toasted, ground til [white sesame seeds]) and some gram flour, which has been toasted to golden in pure ghee, are offered for lunch.
While exchanging til-gul as tokens of goodwill people greet each other with the words "til-gul ghyaa, aani goad-goad bolaa" meaning ‘Accept this til-gul (sweet) and utter sweet words’. The underlying thought in the exchange of til-gul is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends.
The importance of sesame seeds is it keeps body warm and provide good oil, which is needed as winter dried up the moisture from body.In Maharashtra, similar to Andhra Pradesh Makar Sankaranti, is normally a three-day festival.
Celebrations in Goa closely resemble to that in Maharashtra. The women celebrate 'haldi-kumkum'.
Uttarayan, as Makara Sankranti is called in Gujarati, is a major festival in the state of Gujarat which lasts for two days.
14 January is Uttarayan and 15 January is Vasi-Uttarayan (Stale Uttarayan). Gujarati people keenly await this festival to fly kites, called 'patang'. Kites for Uttarayan are made of special light-weight paper and bamboo and are mostly rhombus shaped with central spine and a single bow.
The string often contains abrasives to cut down other people's kites.
In Gujarat, from December through to Makara Sankranti, people start enjoying Uttarayan. Undhiyu (spicy, baked mix of winter vegetables) and chikkis (made from til (sesame seeds), peanuts and jaggery) are the special festival recipes savoured on this day.
In the major cities of Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, and Jamnagar the skies appear filled with thousands upon thousands of kites as people enjoy two full days of Uttarayan on their terraces. When people cut any kites they yell words like "kaypo chhe", "e lapet", "phirki vet phirki" and "lapet lapet" in Gujarati.
In Shimla District of Himachal Pradesh, Makara Sankranti is known as Magha Saaji. Saaji is the Pahari word for Sakranti, start of the new month. Hence this day marks the start of the month of Magha.
According to Hindu religious texts, on the day of Uttarayani the sun enters the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricon), i.e., from this day onwards the sun becomes 'Uttarayan' or it starts moving to the north. It is said that from this day, which signals a change of season, the migratory birds start returning to the hills. On Magha Saaja people wake up early in the morning and take ceremonial dips and shower in the springs or baolis. In the daytime people visit their neighbours and together enjoy khichdi with ghee and chaas and give it in charity at temples. Festival culminates with singing and Naati (folk dance).
In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, Makara Sankranti is celebrated with great gusto.
According to Indian religious texts, on the day of Uttarayani also called Ghughuti in Kumaon, the sun enters the Zodiacal sign of 'Makara' (Capricon), i.e. from this day onwards the sun becomes 'Uttarayan' or it starts moving to the north. It is said that from this day, which signals a change of season, the migratory birds start returning to the hills.
On Makara Sankranti people give Khichadi (a mixture of pulses and rice) in charity, take ceremonial dips in holy rivers, participate in the Uttarayani fairs and celebrate the festival of Ghughutia or Kale Kauva. During the festival of Kale Kauva (literal translation 'black crow') people make sweetmeats out of sweetened flour (flour and gur) deep fried in ghee, shape them in shapes such as drums, pomegranates, knives, and swords. They are strung together and worn as necklace, in the middle of which an orange is fixed. Early in the morning children wear these necklaces and sing "Kale Kauva" to attract crows and other birds and offer them portions of these necklaces, as a token of welcome for all the migratory birds, who are now coming back after their winter sojourn in the plains.
The festival is known as Kicheri in Uttar Pradesh and involves ritual bathing. Over two million people gather at their respective sacred places for this holy bathing such as Allahabad and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Haridwar in Uttarakhand. If they cannot go in river then they bathe at home. There is a compulsion to bathe in the morning while fasting; first they bathe then they eat sweets such as til ladoo and gud laddo (known as tillava in Bhojpuri). At some places new clothes are worn on this day.
Kite flying is an inevitable part of the festival in Uttar Pradesh,as with many states of India such as Gujarat and Maharashtra. Like other places in India, the references to sweets, til (sesame seeds) and gud (jaggery) are found in the songs sung on this day.
In Odisha people prepare makara chaula or uncooked newly harvested rice, banana, coconut, jaggery, sesame, rasagola, Khai/Liaa and chhena puddings for naivedya to gods and goddesses. The withdrawing winter entails a change in food habits and intake of nourishing and rich food. Therefore, this festival holds traditional cultural significance. It is astronomically important for devotees who worship the sun god at the great Konark temple with fervour and enthusiasm as the sun starts its annual swing northwards.According to various Indian calendars, the Sun's movement changes and the days from this day onwards become lengthier and warmer and so the Sun-God is worshiped on this day as a great benefactor. Many individuals at the start of the day perform a ritual bath while fasting.
Besides the usual rituals, people of Orissa, especially Western Orissa, reaffirm the strength of the bond of friendship with their best friends during this occasion. The practice is called ‘Makar Basiba’.
In West Bengal, Sankranti, also known as Poush Sankranti named after the Bengali month in which it falls, is celebrated as a harvest festival Poush Parbon (It falls on 14 January on the Western calendar.) The freshly harvested paddy and the date palm syrup in the form of Khejurer Gur and Patali is used in the preparation of a variety of traditional Bengali sweets made with rice flour, coconut, milk and 'khejurer gur' (date palm jaggery) and known as 'Pitha' . All sections of society participate in a three-day begins on the day before Sankranti and ends on the day after. The Goddess Lakshmi is usually worshipped on the day of Sankranti.
In the Himalayan regions of Darjeeling, the festival is as known as Magey Sakrati. It is distinctly associated with the worship of Lord Shiva. Traditionally, people were required to take a bath before sunrise and then commence their pooja. The food that is consumed consists primarily of sweet potatoes and yams.
Millions of people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar (the point where the river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal).
In the day of Makar Sankranti Hindu God Dharma is worshiped. And khichurhi or rice is offered to the God as Bhog . The day after Makar Sankranti the first day in the month Magh from Bengali calendar The Goddess Laxmi devi is worshiped. It is called Baharlaxmi Puja as the idol is worshiped in an open place.
Bihar and Jharkhand
In Bihar and Jharkhand, the festival is celebrated on 14–15 January. On 14 January, it is celebrated as Makar Sankranti or Sakraat or Khichdi (in local dialects). As in other parts of country, people take baths in rivers and ponds and feast upon seasonal delicacies as a celebration of good harvest. The delicacies include chura, gur (jaggery), sweets made of til (sesame seeds) such as tilgul, tilwa, maska, etc., curd, milk and seasonal vegetables. Kite flying festivals are organised, albeit on a small scale.
On 15 January, it is celebrated as Makraat (in some parts of the state) when people relish special khichdi (dal-rice replete with cauliflower, peas and potatoes).
The festival is one of the most important. People start their day by worshiping and putting til (sesame seeds) into fire followed by eating "dahi-chuda", a dish made of beaten rice (chuda or poha, in Hindi, or avalakki, in Kannada) served with a larger serving of dahi (curd), with cooked kohada (red pumpkin) that is prepared specially with sugar and salt but no water. The meal is generally accompanied by tilkut and lai (laddu made of til, chuda and rice). The festive meal is traditionally made by women in groups. Since the meal is heavy, lunch is generally skipped on the day and the time is, instead, spent on socializing and participating in kite flying festivals.
At night a special khichdi is made and served with its four traditional companions, "char yaar" (four friends) — chokha (roasted vegetable), papad, ghee and achaar. Since such a rich khichdi is generally made on this festival, the festival is often colloquially referred to as "Khichdi".
This is the Suggi or harvest festival for farmers of Karnataka. On this auspicious day, girls wear new clothes to visit near and dear ones with a Sankranti offering in a plate and exchange the same with other families. This ritual is called "Ellu Birodhu." Here the plate would normally contain "Ellu" (white sesame seeds) mixed with fried groundnuts, neatly cut dry coconut and fine cut bella (jaggery). The mixture is called "Ellu-Bella" . The plate contains shaped sugar candy moulds with a piece of sugarcane. There is a saying in Kannada "ellu bella thindu olle maathadi" that translates to 'eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good.' This festival signifies the harvest of the season, since sugarcane is predominant in these parts. Ellu Bella, Ellu Unde, bananas, sugarcane, red berries, haldi and kumkum and small gift items useful in everyday lives are often exchanged among women in Karnataka.
In some parts of Karnataka, a newly married woman is required to give away bananas for five years to married women (muthaidhe/sumangali) from the first year of her marriage and increase the number of bananas in multiples of five. There is also a tradition of some households giving away red berries "Yalchi Kai" with the above. In north Karnataka, kite flying with community members is a tradition. Drawing rangoli in groups is another popular event among women during Sankranti.
An important ritual is display of cows and bulls in colourful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession. They are also made to cross a fire. This ritual is common in rural Karnataka and is called "Kichchu Haayisuvudu."
Makara Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimala where the Makara Jyothi is visible followed by the Makaravilakku celebrations.
Many 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). Millions take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar and Prayag and pray to the Sun God.