Let us understand our festivals! by Vardhan V Dharkar

Makar Sankranti मकर संक्रांती

Historical Significance

Sankranti means the movement of the सूर्य देवता, Sun God from one rashi (constellation of the zodiac) to the next. Hence, there are 12 Sankranti’s in a year. Out of these, the Makar Sankranti is considered the most auspicious. On this day, the Sun travels from zodiac of Sagittarius (धनू) to Capricorn (मकर). It is one of the few Hindu festivals that are aligned with the solar cycle, which means that every year it will come on the same date, fourteenth of January, excepting in leap year when it comes on fifteenth of January. It heralds a change in season, as from this day the Sun begins its movement from South hemisphere (दक्षिणायन) to north (उत्तरायण) hemisphere, signifying end of winter season.

The Vedic sage Vishvamitra is credited with initiating the celebration. It has been mentioned in the Mahabharat that the Pandavas celebrated Makar Sankranti while they were in exile. The festivities associated with Makar Sankranti are known by various names Magh Bihu in Assam, Maghi/ Lohri in Punjab, Maghi Saaji in Himachal Pradesh, Maghi Sangrand or Uttarain (उत्तरायण) in Jammu, Sakrat in Haryana, Sakraat in Rajasthan, Sukarat in central India, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Uttarayana (उत्तरायण) in Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh, Ghughuti in Uttarakhand, Dahi Chura in Bihar, Makar Sankranti in Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal (also called Poush Sankranti or Mokor Sonkranti), Uttar Pradesh (also called Khichidi Sankranti), Uttarakhand (also called Uttarayani) or as simply, Sankranti in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Maghe Sankranti (Nepal), Songkran (Thailand), Thingyan (Myanmar), Mohan Songkran (Cambodia), Til Sakraait in Mithila. Makar Sankranti importance isn’t just limited to its religious significance; it also has economic significance as the festival also marks the beginning of the harvest season when new crops are harvested bringing prosperity to farmers.

The deity Sankranti, after whom the festival is named, is worshipped as a God. According to Hindu legend, Sankranti killed a demon named Sankarasur. The day following Makar Sankranti is called Karidin, which is also known as Kinkrant. On this day, the Devi slayed the demon Kinkarasur, symbolizing the end of negativities whilst giving way to righteousness and good intentions to live well and prosper. While there are plenty of stories about Makar Sankranti and its religious roots, it is said that the Sun (सूर्य देवता) stands for “Pratyaksha-Braham” (प्रत्यक्ष ब्रम्ह), “a manifestation of the absolute”, bestowing knowledge, spiritual light, and wisdom, and hence Makar Sankranti is a festival where सूर्य, the Sun God is worshipped and offered gratitude and prayers. People take the holy dip in the river Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna or Kaveri.

On this day freshly harvested food grains, are first offered to the Gods and then eaten. Ayurved suggests eating Khichdi since it is a light and easily digestible. The significance of eating Khichdi is that it prompts the body to prepare for the change in season, from the cold winter breeze to the forthcoming warmth of spring. As the temperature fluctuates from dry cool to warm, the body consequentially becomes susceptible to imbalances. Khichdi thus makes for the perfect dish to quench the appetite whilst providing the body with essential nutrition. It also symbolises unity as it is prepared in the pot by mixing freshly harvested rice, lentils, vegetables and various spices. Sweets made from sesame and jaggery such as laddoos is shared amongst people, symbolising a desire for unity, peace and harmony.

The festival is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country, signifying Diversity in unity.

Gujarat

The festival is celebrated for two days, the first of which is dedicated to flying kites. Popular cries like “Kai Po Che” and “E Lapet” begin the occasion as the vast blue sky is filled with an array of kites. Kite-flying competitions are held across communities in the state, with each individual engaged in an intriguing kite fight against all others. Undhiyu and chikkis, a delicious combination of winter vegetables, sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery, are cooked in Gujarati households to commemorate the occasion.

Punjab

Associated with the harvest of winter crops, Makar Sankranti, called Lohri in Punjab, is an iconic event among the farmers here. On the night of Lohri, bonfires are lit across the state to worship god and perform rituals. The locals also perform the bhangra while eating the mouth-watering traditional dish of kheer (rice cooked in milk).

Assam

In Assam Makar Sankranti, called Magh Bihu, feasts last up to a week. The festival marks the end of the harvest season. Games like tekeli-bhonga (pot-breaking) and buffalo fighting take place on the actual day of the event. Rice cakes and laru, a sweet dish made from coconut, are popular delicacies. Meji, makeshift huts, are often erected from nothing by the young to host the feast after which they are burned the following day.

Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti known as Pongal is celebrated on four days: The day prior to Pongal is called Bhogi Pongal. The old items are disposed of this day.
The second day is Pongal, the main day of celebration, when prayers are offered to the Sun God for prosperity and wealth. In the early morning, milk is boiled in big mud pots kept over mud stoves. When the boiled milk spills over from the brim of the pot, people shout “Pongalo Pongal”, from which the festival got its common name of “Pongal”. Sweet Pongal, Salted Pongal, sambar, rasam, milk payasam (kheer), adhirasam, vadai, and curd pacchadi are prepared for lunch.

The third day after Pongal is celebrated as Mattu Pongal when obeisance is paid to the cattle – cow, buffalo, ox, goat, and the sheep – that help in agricultural or laborious harvest works. The cattle are decorated with sandal paste, vermillion, turmeric, flowers and bells made out of grasses, “netti” shoots and flowers. In villages of Madurai, Tirunelveli, and Ramanathapuram, Jellikattu is an important event, which is a contest for taming the wild bulls. The sweet rice Pongal and the salted Pongal are served to the cattle as a sign of gratefulness.

The last day of celebration is called “Kannum Pongal” or Karinaal, the day when the people in the village meet their relatives and friends to thank them for their support during the harvest time.

Maharashtra

In Maharashtra, the day begins with bathing in water filled with sesame seeds. Married women celebrate wedded life by anointing each other with scented waters, exchanging turmeric and vermillion and enjoying the haldi kunku. They also exchange Sugad which are earthen clay pots containing sugarcane, berries, carrot pieces, puffed rice, turmeric, cloth and cotton. Five married women distribute five Sugads to five other married women. This is one festival where the colour black is worn as it signifies the end of the black period and welcoming of a happy, new time. Maharashtrian women wear a special black saree called the Chandrakala which is embossed with starsand and small crescent moons. Another reason for wearing black is because Sankranti comes at the peak of the winter and wearing black helps to absorb heat and keep the body warm. Halwyache daagine or ornaments made out of halwa (a sweet pudding of sugar-coated sesame) are offered to the newly wed bride at the traditional Sunache Tilavan which is the first welcome to the daughter-in-law.

The best food items during the festival are til gul which consists of sesame and jaggery – both symbols of prosperity and gulaachi poli/bhakri (round thick rotis made of sesame and jaggery dusted with sesame and crowned with butter.

Nepal

Makar Sankranti in Nepal is celebrated as Maghe Sankranti and like most regions, they too celebrate the festival with sesame seeds. One of the legends has it that aeons ago, a businessman had a sack of sesame seeds which never seemed to end. On digging through the bag, he found an idol of Lord Vishnu in the bag and hence, sesame seeds became auspicious. After Makar Sankranti, the auspicious period commences and all ceremonies are done in Nepal.

My Interpretation

Makar Sankranti is about movement, movement from ignorance to knowledge, from night to day. It teaches us that in this universe nothing is constant, everything is changing and evolving. It teaches us also to change, evolve, improve, accept and adapt new concepts, move from without to within, discard old thoughts and imbibe new thoughts and knowledge, become a better individual. It reinforces the mantra “Nothing is constant in this world except Change”.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Makar Sankranti

वर्धन वसंत धारकर
१४/०१/२०२३

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