India, a country of diverse culture and traditions, has numerous festivals that are celebrated all around the year. People overcome the barriers of religion and region and partake in the celebrations. Makar Sankranti, the Hindu festival that is observed in January every year is one such festival. Observed in different parts of the country in different ways, Makar Sankranti denotes the entry of the sun into the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn) as it travels on its celestial path. This year it will be celebrated on January 14.
The day marks the onset of summer and the six months auspicious period for Hindus known as Uttaarayan. The connection with Uttaraayan dates back to the mythological era of The Mahabharata when Bhishma Pitamah lay down on a bed of arrows and waited for the sun to be in Uttaraayan to breath his last.
Considered as one of the most ancient Hindu festivals, it is observed according to the solar cycles. Thus, it almost always falls on the same Gregorian date every year. The festivities associated with the day is known by different names in different parts of the country — Lohri by north Indian Hindus and Sikhs, Sukarat in central India, Bhogali Bihu by Assamese Hindus, and Pongal by Tamil and other south Indian Hindus.
The day is dedicated to the Hindu god surya (sun) and is observed to convey gratitude to nature for its resources. The significance of the sun god can be traced back to the Vedic texts, especially the Gayatri Mantra — a sacred hymn of the Hindus.
There are various spiritual practices that are observed during Makar Sankranti. It is common for people to take a holy dip in rivers, especially Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari and Krishna. It is generally believed that such a practice would absolve them of their past sins.
There is also a custom, in several places in the country to make a particular form of sticky sweet made of jaggery and sesame. It is believed that the sweet symbolises peace and harmony despite the apparent differences. In most parts of the country, the time preceding Makar Sankranti indicates the early stages of Rabi crop and agricultural cycle where the crops are sown and most of the work is done. Thereby the day is marked by people socialising with each other and enjoying each other’s company.