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Makara Sankranti that is falling on January 14th 2017, is a solar event that has deep spiritual significance. As per Hindu philosophy, the Sun signifies light, knowledge, spirituality, and wisdom. It signifies shunning the darkness of delusion and allowing the light within to shine brighter. You must gradually begin to grow in purity, wisdom, and knowledge, and perform your duties without expectations of rewards. This is the true learning you can derive from this festival.
The name Sankranti has been derived from the word Sankramana in Sanskrit, meaning “commencement of movement”. Sankranti means transit of Sun from one zodiac sign to other. Transition of the Sun from Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) to Makara rashi (Capricorn). The festival is also referred as Uttarayana as it marks the starting of northward journey of Sun.
Puranas about Makara Sankranti
Saturn (Shani) is the lord of Makara Rashi. During Makara Sankranti, Sun the father of Saturn (Shani) visits the house of Saturn (Shani), even though they both don’t go along nicely, the Sun makes it a point to stay with his son at his house for a month. This symbolizes 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 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 reference of this day is in Mahabharata. Bhishma, the great grandsire of the Kauravas and Pandavas, had declared his intent to leave for the heavenly abode on this day.
Traditions, rituals and celebration of Makara Sankranti in various states of India
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 (Sakkare Acchu) 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.
An important ritual is display of cows and bulls in colorful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession in the evening. In the night a bonfire is lit and the animals are made to jump over the fire. This ritual is common in rural Karnataka and is called “Kichchu Haayisuvudu”.
In Odisha people prepare Makara Chaula: uncooked newly harvested rice, banana, coconut, jaggery, sesame, rasagola, Khai/Liaa and Chena 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 fervor 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.
In Tamilnadu, Makara Sankranti is celebrated over four days. The festivities begin on the last day of the 9th Tamil month of “Maargazhi” and continue till the third day of the 10th Tamil month 0f “Thai”.
Day 1 – Bhogi Pandigai (Bhogi)
First day of the four day festival. Here 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 symbolizes 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.
Day 3 – Maattu Pongal Pandigai
The third day 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.
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.
In Maharashtra, Makara Sankranti celebrated by exchanging multi-colored til-guls made from til (sesame seeds) and jaggery. Since sesame seeds have a greater ability to absorb and emit sattva frequencies, consuming til-gul helps improve spiritual practice. Exchange til-gul amongst one another results in an exchange of sattvic component. Gul-polis is offered for lunch. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying “til-gul ghya, god god bola” which translates to “accept these tilguls and speak sweet words”. The under-lying thought in the exchange of tilguls is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities, speak sweetly and remain friends. Women folk invite other married women for a get-together called “Haldi-Kumkum” and given gifts.
In Gujarat Makar Sankranti is observed with a lot of energy and gusto. People offer thousands of their colorful oblations to the Sun in the form of beautiful kites. The act stands as a metaphor for reaching to their beloved God, the one who represents the best. This festival thus helps the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste and community. Kite flying has been associated with this festival in a big way. It has become an internationally well-known event.