Makar Sankranti is one of the most auspicious day for the Hindus, and is celebrated in almost all parts of the country in different cultural forms. Millions of people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar & Prayag and pray to Lord Sun. It is celebrated in southern India as Pongal, and in Punjab as Lohri & Maghi. Makar Sankranti is the day when the Sun-God begins its ascendancy and entry into the Northern Hemisphere. Sun is the one who transcends time and also the one who rotates the proverbial Wheel of Time. The famous Gayatri Mantra, which is chanted everyday by every faithful Hindu, is directed to Sun God to bless them with intelligence & wisdom. Sun not only represents God but also stands for an embodiment of knowledge & wisdom. Lord Krishna reveals in Gita that this manifested divinity was his first disciple, and we all know it to be indeed a worthy one too. Of all the cosmic bodies Sun is the most glorious & important, thus every sun-centric cosmic event became very important spiritual, religious & cultural events. On Makar Sankrantim, the Sun begins its ascendancy and journey into the Northern Hemisphere, and thus it signifies an event wherein the Gods seem to remind their children that ‘Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya’. May you go higher & higher – to more & more Light and never to darkness.
Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti is transition. There is a sankranti every month when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. There are twelve signs of the zodiac, and thus there are twelve sankranti’s as well. Each of these sankranti’s has its own relative importance but two of these are more important – the Mesh (Aries) Sankranti and the most important, the Makar (Capricorn) Sankranti. Makar Sankranti is always celebrated on 14th January in the month of Magha according to the Hindu calendar. After this day the days start becoming longer & warmer, and thus the chill of winter in on decline.
According to the Puranas, Sun visits the house of his son Shani, who is the swami of Makar Rashi on maker sankranti. The father & son do not ordinarily get along nicely, but inspite of the differences, Lord Sun makes it a point to meet Shani on this day. Father in fact himself comes to his son’s house, for a month. This day symbolized the importance of special relationship of father & son. It is the son who has the responsibility to carry forward his fathers dream and the continuity of the family.
It is also believed that on makar sankranti day, Lord Vishnu ended the ever increasing terrorism of the Asuras by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandar Parvat. So this occasion also represents the end of negativities and beginning of an era of righteous living.
Another belief is that the 60,000 cursed son of Maharaj Sagar represent our thoughts, who become dull & dead-like because of uncultured & blind ambition. Redemption of such people is only by the waters of the Holy River Ganga (Ganges). brought down ‘to’ & later ‘from’ the Himalayas with great tapasya.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated in various ways in different parts of India. In Uttar Pradesh, taking a dip in the holy rivers on this day is regarded as most auspicious. Sankranti is also called as ‘Khichiri parv’ in this state. A month long ‘Magha-Mela’ fair begins at Prayag (Allahabad) on this occasion. Ritual bathing also takes place at many places like Triveni, Haridwar and Garh Mukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna in Bihar.
In the state of West Bengal, a very big Mela is held every year at Ganga Sagar where the river Ganga is believed to have dived into the nether region and vivified the ashes of the sixty thousand ancestors of King Bhagirath. This mela is attended by a large number of pilgrims from all over the country. Sankrant in Tamil Nadu is known as ‘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. Rice and pulses cooked together in ghee and milk is offered to the family deity after the ritual worship.
In Maharashtra on the Sankranti day people exchange multi-colored tilguds made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying – ‘til-gul ghya, god god bola’ meaning ‘accept these tilguls and speak sweet words’. This is a special day for the women in Maharashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called ‘Haldi-Kumkum’ and given gifts of any utensil.
In Punjab, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankrant and are celebrated as “LOHARI”. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown into the bonfires. 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.
Similar to the clelebration in Punjab, many tribals in our country start their New Year from the day of Sankrant by lighting bonfires, dancing and eating their particular dishes together.
* Get up early in the morning, before sunrise, have bath and be ready with water & flowers for the sunrise. Worship the rising Sun, by offering water, flowers with both the hands & then pray with folded hands by chanting the Gayatri Mantra and pray for knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment to rise in the similar way to greater & greater heights. Pray for blessings to live a dynamic, inspired & righteous life.
* Do tarpan for your ancestors. Offer water to the ancestors while praying for their blessings. Resolve to redeem the pledges & pride of your forefathers. Live life in such a way that wherever your forefathers may be their head is held high by the life & deeds of their children.
* Prepare laddus or other sweets of Til & Gur and offer them to your friends & relatives. See to it that your ‘Well-being Prayer for all’ gets manifested in action & deeds.
* Have the lunch of Khichiri. This stands for inculcating simplicity in your life & habits.
* Give some Daan (donation) on this day to someone who truly deserves.