Synonymous and widely associated and acknowledged with kite flying, jaggery and sesame, Makar Sankranti is a Hindu festival dedicated to the solar deity, Surya. It is celebrated not only in India but also in other South East Asian countries namely – Nepal (as Maaghe Sankrant), Thailand (as Songkran) and Cambodia (a Mohan Songkran). Makara means Capricorn and the movement of the sun into the Makara Raashi or the zodiac of Capricorn is called Makar Sankranti.

Legend of Makar Sankranti

            It is also believed that on this day Lord Sun visits God Shani who is the owner of the constellation makar. Since, Shani is the foster child of Sun, they do not share a good relation, However, it is Shani’s responsibility to take care of his father. Hence, this day signifies the priority of responsibilities.

When does Makar Sankranti fall.

            The word Sankranti signifies change of the zodiac sign thereby suggesting movement of the planet. Traditionally, there are twelve Sankrantis in a year, the two significant ones being Makar Sankranti (winter solstice) and Karka Sankranti (summer solstice), either of the two times of the year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equation. There are twelve days in a year when the sun moves from one constellation to another. From Makar Sankranti, the sun starts moving towards the North direction which is also known as Uttarayana which is regarded as the period of divinity. Usually Makar Sankranti falls on 14 January based on the solar calendar and hence closely follows the Georgian calendar.  According to the traditional Hindu calendar it marks the move of the sun from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere thereby transiting into a new beginning. Astrologically it also marks the transition of the Sun from the zodiac sign of Sagittarius (Dhanu Rashi) to Capricorn (Makara).

Makar Sankranti celebration and its importance.

            This festival marks the end of the long, cold, winter month and the onset of spring season. In ancient times, it was the time when the transition of the sun resulted in longer days. So, it was also widely regarded as a celebration of the change of seasons, i.e from a harsher to a milder climate, a sign of hope and positivity. It is also known as the harvest festival, the time when the farmers reap the fruit of their hard labour and rejoice & celebrate the event with great fervour. Also regarded as a new beginning when families bury the hatchet, get together and celebrate the festival.

Region wise celebration   

            In most regions of India, Sankranti festivities last for two to four days. In West Bengal, it is celebrated as Pousha Sankranti, in Tamil Nadu as Thai Pongal and the next day is called Mattu Pongal to acknowledge the farm animals and livestock, in Kerela as Makara Vilakku, in Assam as Magh Bihu, in Gujarat as Vasi Uttarayan, in Punjab as Maghi. In Maharashtra, it is celebrated over a period of three day where in on Day 1 known as Bhogi – prayers are held in respect of the Sun God – followed by applying turmeric powder and vermillion on the forehead by women on Sankranti  i.e 2nd day. Day 3 is celebrated as Kinkrant, the day the Devi defeated the demon Kinkarasur.In Goa, women pray to Goddess Lakshmi and observe a 12 days turmeric powder and vermillion festival and exchange gifts, usually household items. Five leaf plates are offered to God with rice, Bengal gram, jaggery and coconut – one each for the deity and family, two for the crows (believed to be our ancestors) and the last one shown to all the corners of the house to ward off bad omen. The festival ends on Ratha Saptami – the day the temple deity is taken around the village in chariot. In the end, married women give coconut, rice and flowers to the temple. Newly wed women offer five clay pots filled with newly harvested food grains to the temple deity. These pots have black beaded threads tied around them.Kumbh Mela, one of the largest attended fairs is organized on the occasion of Makar Sankranti once in every twelve years. On this day fairs and kite flying is also organised across the country. In Uttarakhand, Uttarayani fairs are held where the local culture is showcased while in Madhya Pradesh people dip in holy waters in Ujjain on this day. People all across the country enjoy the Makar Sankranti festival with great fervour as it marks the new beginning in the year.

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