India is a land of diversity and each region has its own share of festivals that are celebrated with utmost fanfare and galore. Makar Sankranti is one such occasion that is celebrated across the country – with different names but with a common purpose.
The harvest festival is observed to thank nature for its abundant resources and good produce. From Gujarat to Assam, from Kashmir to Kerala, each region has its own rituals and practices to celebrate the onset of spring.
Here are some interesting facts about the festival.
Name and date
As most Hindu festivals are celebrated according to the lunar calendar and thus there is no fixed date every year, Sankranti is observed according to the solar calendar. Hence, the festival is celebrated every year on January 14. The name derives from the belief that on Sankranti, the Sun traverses into the zodiacal sign of Makara (Capricorn) on its celestial path, which is the first change in the zodiac after the winter solstice and is the first day of the month of Magha. The word ‘Sankranti’ signifies the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign to another. Thus, the name of the festival literally means the movement of the sun into Capricorn.
Different names, same festival
The festival is a way to celebrate the harvest of the Rabi (winter) crops. As the festival also marks the end of the winter season, people pray to the Sun god and its journey in the northern hemisphere, also known as Uttarayan. Hence in Gujarat, the festival is known by this name. It is also the end of month of Pausha/ Poush ( a month in Hindu calendar), thus in Bengal, the festival is known as Poush Sankranti. In Assam, it goes by the name of Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu, in parts of UP and Bihar, it is known as Khichdi and Pongal in south India.
As the harvest festival, people around the country celebrate the occasion with fresh produce of the season, that is predominantly dominated by jaggery (gur). Rice, nuts, radish and sesame (til) is also an integral part of the festive food. Almost every region consume jaggery and sesame on this day.
According to popular belief, it is said on Makar Sankranti the Sun forgives his son Shani and visits him. So by distributing sweets everyone is urged to let go of anger and negative feelings and live with peace. Everyone says “til-gul ghya ani gud gud bola” which means “eats these sesame seeds and jaggery and speak sweet words”.
Flying kites on Sankranti
Erstwhile, it was believed that winter brought in a lot of germs and bacterias that caused illness such as flu. So, people used to fly kites basking in the early morning sun on the day of Makar Sankranti to get rid of bad bacteria. Flying kites are only a way to make the task more exciting.
Fairs and pilgrimage
Makar Sankranti is associated with pilgrimage as it is considered as the most pious time to take a holy dip. In Uttar Pradesh, Kumbh Mela starts with Makar Sankranti every 12 years. In West Bengal, there is Gangasagar or Sagardweep Mela where pilgrims take a dip in the holy river to wash off all their sins. In Kerala, one of the most austere pilgrimages of Shabrimala ends on this auspicious day.