Makar Sankranti

Makar Sankranti
The Sanskrit term “Shankramana” means “to begin to move”. The day on which the sun begins to move northwards is called Makara Sankranti. It usually falls in the middle of January. Makara literally means 'Capricorn' and Sankranti is the day when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. The Sankranti of any month is considered auspicious as it signifies afresh start. However Makara Sankranti is celebrated in the month of Magha when the sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. According to Hindu mythology, one 'human' year of 365 days is equivalent to one day and night of the gods. Makara Sankranti marks the beginning of the day of the gods, which is equivalent to six solar months and is believed to be the auspicious part of the year. The previous six months, considered the night and therefore symbolic of darkness and evil, are inauspicious. Makara Sankranti is believed to be the time when Surya rides his chariot, drawn by seven horses, from the southern skies to the north.  

 For the pastoral people therefore, it is of prime importance for it signifies the end of the winter and the 'turning back' of the sun to the north. The festival of Makar Sankrant traditionally coincides with the beginning of the Sun's northward journey (the Uttarayan) when it enters the sign of Makar (the Capricon). 

The evidence of this festival being lucky is found in our great epic Mahabharat wherein it is told that the great warrior-hero, Bhishma Pitamaha even after being wounded and lying on the bed of arrows, lingered on till Uttarayan set in, to breathe his last. It is believed that the person who dies on this auspicious day of Sankrant escapes the cycle of birth and re-birth and that his soul mingles with the Almighty.

This festival has been celebrated for thousands of years. Initially, this was probably a festival celebrated in the cold climate, when people prayed for the warmth of the sun. In all likelihood, the Aryans celebrated it, and continued to do so after migrating to India.

>on the Sankranti day people exchange multi-coloured tilguds made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. Til-polis are offered for lunch. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying - "til-gul ghya, god god bola" (take the tilguls and talk sweetly). The under-lying thought in the exchange of tilguls is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends. This is a special day,  married women are invited for a get-together called "Haldi-Kumkoo" where they apply haldi and kumkoo on each others forehead and give gifts of any utensil, which the woman of the house purchases on that day, channas or moong dal beetal leaves and banans are also offered along with the utensil.

There is family re-union in all homes. Brothers renew their contacts with their married sisters by giving them presents. On the next day, the herds of cows are adorned beautifully, fed and worshipped. It is a great day for the cattle. 

On the same day, young girls prepare various special dishes—sweet rice, sour rice, rice with coconut—and take them to the bank of a river or tank. They lay some leaves on the ground and place on them balls of the various preparations for the fish, birds, and other creatures. It is an extremely colorful ceremony.  Both these days are regarded as being inauspicious for travel. This is to prevent us from going away from home on those days.

Celebrations in the India
This festival is celebrated differently in different parts of the country yet the use of til that is sesame is found everywhere. Til or sesame seed contain lot of oil and they therefore have a quality of softness in them. People are encouraged to emulate themselves like the Til which holds people together and sticks to them with the bondage of love. Therefore, firstly the use of til in sweets is good for health and secondly being soft means exchange of love and tender feelings.

In Gujarat Sankrant is observed more or less in the same manner as in Maharashtra but with a difference that in Gujarat there is a custom of giving gifts to relatives. The elders in the family give gifts to the younger members of the family.  

In Punjab huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankrant and which is celebrated as "LOHARI".  The following day, which is Sankrant is celebrated as MAGHI. The Punjabi's dance their famous Bhangra dance till they get exhausted. Then they sit down and eat the sumptuous food that is specially prepared for the occasion.

In Madhya Pradesh this festival of Sankrant is known by the name "SUKARAT" or "SAKARAT" and is celebrated with great pomp merriment accompanied by lot of sweets.

In South Sankrant is known by the name of "PONGAL", which takes its name from the surging of rice boiled in a pot of milk, and this festival has more significance than even Diwali. It is very popular particularly amongst farmers.

In Uttar Pradesh, Sankrant is called "KICHERI". Having bath on this day is regarded as most important. Uttar Pradesh, one who does not bathe on Makara Sankranti is born a donkey in his next birth. The belief probably originated in cold climates to compel some of the more reluctant people to observe certain rules of hygiene.

In Bengal every year a Mela is held at Ganga Sagar.

The day prior to the Makara Sankranti is called the Bhogi festival. On this day, old, worn-out and dirty things are discarded and burnt. Homes are cleaned and white-washed. Even the roads are swept clean and lovely designs are drawn with rice-flour. These practices have their own significance from the point of view of health. Cleaning the mind of its old dirty habits of thought and feeling is more urgently needed. 

The festival associated with this date is one of exchange of goodwill.

Things Required:
Sesame seeds (Til)
Dried coconut
Chana/Moong dal fried
Idols made of sugar
New clothes for all Various kinds of pongal
The family bathes early in the morning and wears new clothes. Rangoli designs decorate the threshold and pooja room. After the regular family pooja each according to practice visits are made and visitors received. The special preparation of the day is Yellu made of the mixture of sesame seeds, pieces of jaggery, halved grountnut seeds, dried coconut pieces and fried dal. This is given to visitors and carried to all familiars, friends and relatives in a gesture of goodwill. In all familes, sugarcane is cut up into pieces and distributed to friends and relatives. Sugar idols are offered.
Newly-weds give bunches of bananas to women and continue to do so for the first five years of marriage, increasing the number of bunches in multiples of 5 each year. If there is a new-born male child, then silver cups filled with fried savories are gifted to five or seven women.
There are delicacies cooked on this day. Favorites are different kinds of pongal and vada. Salted pongal is served with avial, a mixed vegetable curry.

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