Makar Sankranti is a Hindu festival celebrated in India and Nepal during the month of January every year according to the Hindu lunar calendar. It celebrates the sun’s transit into Makara (Capricorn) raashi or zodiac sign on its celestial path.
The origins of Makar Sankranti lie in ancient Indian texts. As per the Puranas, Surya defeated the demons Svarbhanu and Bali on this day. Another legend states that Surya had an ego battle with Chhaya, his shadow which emerged as a source for cold waves and maladies in winters. On this day, Surya emerged victorious and longer days returned signalling spring.
Some experts believe Makar Sankranti originates from a harvest festival linked to sun’s northward journey alleviating winter chills. It signifies the end of the bad times and the auspicious arrival of happy days with shorter nights and longer days.
Rituals and Celebrations
Some of the key rituals and celebrations associated with Makar Sankranti include:
– Khichdi: A sweet dish made of rice, edible seeds, nuts, jaggery is eaten to mark the festival.
– Til Gul or Sesame Seed Brittle: Sweet eaten as prasad made of sesame seeds and jaggery.
– Makar Sankranti Fairs: Held across Punjab, UP, Bihar where kites fill the skies.
– Snana or Holy Bathing: Devotees take holy dips at sacred rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari etc.
– Kite Flying: Popular across North India as people congregate at parks and fields to fly kites.
– Paying Respects: Rituals of donating food, clothes, money to Brahmins are performed seeking blessings.
– Ganga Aarti: A spectacular ritual offered to river Ganga at Haridwar and Varanasi.
– Temple Visits: People visit temples to offer prayers to Sun God and seek his blessings.
Significance of Sun Worship on Makar Sankranti
On this day, Surya (Sun God) is especially worshipped as he is considered most benevolent. Sun Worship rituals are performed throughout India:
– Arghya: Offerings of water, flowers, food are made to Sun with mantras in morning.
– Akshaya Tritiya/Surya Shashthi Puja: Celebrated by some as Surya’s birthday.
– Surya Grahan Puja: Prayers are recited facing east in noontime.
– Lakshmi Pooja: Worshipping Goddess Lakshmi alongside Surya for prosperity and joy.
– Havan and Yagya: Sacred fire rituals conducted to please Surya for good harvest and wellbeing.
Sun worshipping is an intrinsic tradition on this harvest festival to thank Surya for blessings and new beginnings as he shifts to the auspicious northern path.
Celebrations in Different Regions
The festival is celebrated with varied traditions across Indian states:
– Punjab/Haryana: Kite flying, Bhangra folk dance, sweets like til-rice are special.
– Uttar Pradesh: Khichdi, kite flying. Prayagraj mela draws millions at Sangam.
– Bihar: Sita naumi vrat, puas/tilkut distribution, girls gifted ornaments/toffees.
– West Bengal: Prayers at Gangasagar Mela, sweets in markets.
– Assam: Boating on Brahmaputra, goru/til ladoo, children gifted paddy packets.
– Tamil Nadu: First prayers to Surya, kite flying at beaches, sweet payasam.
So in essence, while rituals differ in details, the overall theme of thanksgiving, harmony and festivities remains the same across regions in India and abroad.
Makaravilakku at Sabarimala
In Kerala, Makar Sankranti coincides with an annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala Temple for ‘Makaravilakku’. It is the most prominent celebration witnessing over 50 million devotees:
– Punyahavisi: Bathing in holy Pampa River marks the beginning of 41 day vratham.
– Makarasamkramam: Two stars, Makara and Kumbha join on Moolathara hill, resulting in flames/lights.
– Makaravilakku Darshan: Pilgrims gather in night to meditate on Ayyappa’s blessings as divine light descends.
– Kazhcha Pilgrimage: Final march to Sannidhanam for sacred prayers before trekking back home.
– Arti and Pushpanjali: Ceremonies on Sankranti day and final ceremonial bathing end festivities.
It’s a spiritually enriching experience for devotees seeking Ayyappa’s munificence and protection.
The harvest joy is shared worldwide in Indian diaspora communities:
– In Nepal, Makar Melas are celebrated with fervour in various cities and towns.
– East Asian countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia also celebrate Maghi or Bak Phea honouring Sun.
– North American cities organise colourful kite and food festivals attracting thousands.
– Gulf Countries and Europe see cultural programs, community meals and melas marking Makar Sankranti.
So in essence, it remains a global symbol of gratefulness, togetherness and new beginnings disregarding geographical borders.
Makar Sankranti is a joyous harvest festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil and the return of longer days. With its wholesome traditions of seeking blessings through sun worship, holy bathing and festive spirit, it promotes positivity, renewal and thanksgiving. Even as celebrations modernize over times, their essence stays the same – to feel profound bonds of togetherness, express gratitude and welcome favourable changes that each new seasonal cycle brings.