Makara Sankranti is set by the solar cycle of the Hindu lunisolar calendar and is observed on a day which usually falls on 14 January of the Gregorian calendar. It signifies the arrival of longer days. Makar Sankranti falls in the Hindu calendar solar month of Makara, and the lunar month of Magha. Therefore, the festival is also called Magha Sankranti or Magha festival in many parts of India.
The festival is dedicated to Lord Sun. On this auspicious day, the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn or Makar which marks the end of winter month and the start of longer days. This is the beginning of the month of Magh. To recompense for the distinction that happens due to the revolution around the sun, every 80 years the day of Sankranti is deferred by one day. From the day of Makar Sankranti, the sun begins its northward journey or Uttarayan journey. Therefore, this festival is also known as Uttarayan.
Uttarayan is known to be the period of Devas. Yagyas, donations, charities, austerities, marriages, mundan etc. are considered to be auspicious during this period. Any meritorious deeds or donation during this period establishes more fruitful. Makar Sankranti is also celebrated as the harvest festival and marks the arrival of spring. The day is synonymous to kite flying too. The time thus signifies a period of socializing and family get-together, taking care of the cattle, celebrating around bonfires and flying kites. From the morning of Makar Sankranti, colourful kites can be seen wafting in the sky and this continues throughout Uttarayan. The festival that marks the arrival of the harvest season also marks the end of winter.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated by different names in different parts of the country--
- Lohri: One day before Makar Sankranti, on 13th January, Lohri is celebrated in Haryana and Punjab. At night, people gather around the bonfire and throw til, puffed rice & popcorns into the flames of the bonfire. Prayers are offered to the bonfire seeking abundance & prosperity.
Festival of Donation "or" Khichdi ": In Uttar Pradesh, it is mainly the festival of 'Donation'. The Magh fair, which continues for one month on the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati in Allahabad starts from the day of Makar Sankranti only.
- In Bihar, Makar Sankranti festival is known as Khichdi. On this day, donating urad, rice, gold, woollen clothes, blankets etc. have their own importance.
- In Maharashtra, all married women donate cotton, oil and salt to other suhagin or married women on their first Sankrant.
- In Bengal, there is a tradition of donating til after taking bath in Makar Sankrant. A huge fair is also organised every year in Gangasagar.
- Pongal: On the occasion of Makar Sankranti in Tamil Nadu, this festival is celebrated as Pongal for four days.
Therefore, in India, the Makar Sankranti festival has its own importance.