The sun begins its journey on the 14th of January and marks the celebration of the Hindu festival Makar Sankranti. This is a special celebration that marks the entry of sun into the Tropic of Capricorn that is 'Makar'. There is a legend behind this special festival of harvesting that marks the beginning of 'Uttayan Punyakalam'. It is said that Sankranti, the deity associated with the sun and energy that comes from the orb, slayed a demon Sankarasur on this specific day. And therefore, this day is celebrated as Makar Sankranti.
Another legend associated with this festival is that Bhisma, the demigod, son of River Goddess, 'Ganga' and a king, lived for over three centuries. During the battle of Kurukshetra, the great warrior was mortally wounded. He held onto life till the beginning of Uttaraya, and once the sun entered Makar, he gave up his soul. Thus, it is believed that if one dies on this day, his soul will forever be released from the cycle of birth and rebirth and will be able to join the Almighty in heaven.
Importance of Sun
The Sun represents the 'Pratyaksha Brahman' to a Hindu. In simple words, it is the manifest God who will stand the test of knowledge and wisdom. The transition of the Sun plays a very important role in the individual's life and values according to the Hinduism. Therefore, Makar Sankranti plays a significant role in the religious and spiritual beliefs.
India, a Land of Diverse Cultures
India is a vast land with many beliefs and religions living in a harmonious culture. Makar Sankranti is celebrated all over India, but in different ways, in different regions and under different names. This day long festivity has one thing in common, that is, 'Gud' or jaggery and 'til' or sesame seeds. The traditional Indian food prepared using these two common ingredients is to help provide warmth in the cold winter season.
Different Regions, Same Festival
The different states of India, celebrate Makar Sankranti with pomp and pageantry according to their cultural traditions. Like people of Uttar Pradesh, the Hindi speaking region of India, celebrate this festival by taking a dip in one of the Holy rivers. They call this festival as 'Khichdi' and begin a month-long 'Magh mela' or 'Magh fair' that commences at Prayag.
People from the states of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa too celebrate the harvest season by taking a dip in the holy rivers according to their rituals. The Bengalis take a dip in the Ganges and attend the Sagar Mela held at the mouth of river Ganges. This is the annual pilgrimage that gives purification from all sins and helps them meet 'moksh'. They make a traditional cuisine called "peethey' that a roll of rice flour with jaggery and sweetened coconut shavings.
People of Haryana, Himachal and Punjab celebrate harvest season as Lohri and huge bonfires are lit to celebrate the harvest of winter crops. They offer prayers to 'Agni', god of fire and make a sweet dish from jaggery, sesame seeds, peanuts and popcorn. The traditional cuisine consists of 'Makki ki Roti' that is corn bread and 'sarson ka saag', that is, a preparation made of mustard leaves. These food recipes are ideal for a cold winter night celebration as they provide the much-needed warmth to the body.
Bhogai Bihu is celebrated in Assam, also harvest festival. People of the state of Assam light a 'meji' or bonfire and indulge in community cooking. They sing and dance to the beats of the drums. They throw the traditional cuisine of 'pitha' (rice cakes stuffed with sesame seeds and jaggery-sweetened groundnut) and beetle nuts into the bonfire as offering to 'Agni', the fire god. The next day, they take part in the traditional sports like buffalo fight, cock-fight and egg fight.
People of Andra Pradesh celebrate Makar Sankranti as 'Bhogi' by burning bonfires of old articles to signify burning of old things and making place for the new. The day of Sankranti is called 'Pedda Padunga' and new clothes are worn and sweets are offered to the gods. On the third day, the house is cleaned and people use new utensil and equipment. This day is called the 'Kanuma'.
Sankranti is one of the most important festivals of the state of Tamil Nadu and known as 'Pongal' in this region. They burn away old clothes and things in bonfires to mark the end of the old year and beginning of a new year. The first day of Sankranti is called 'Pongal' and celebrated by cooking rice and boiled milk and jaggery.
People of Karnataka celebrate Sankranti and prepare delicious cuisines made of sesame seeds and jaggery. Kerala celebrates 40 day long rituals at Sabrimala with a lot of festivities and fanfare that includes traditional feasts. The state of Gujarat celebrates Sankranti as Uttarayana. The Gujaratis offer 'chikki' or peanut brittle to the Sun god. They make a traditional feasts of 'kichdo'. They fly kites as a form of religious offerings.
Rajasthan, celebrates Sankranti with preparation of 'Ghewar', a sweetened yellow cake made of sesame seeds and jaggery. Madhya Pradesh celebrates this festival as 'Sakarat' by making traditional sweets and Maharashtra celebrates Sankranti as 'Makar Sankaranti'. They exchange sweets made of sesame seeds and jaggery called 'til-gud' and 'til-laddus'. They make 'til-polis' as the traditional cuisines and married women of the community follow the ritual of 'haldi-kumkum'.
This is an auspicious day that helps people seek enlightenment and overcome ignorance and seek true knowledge of self. This day is supposed to bring in luck, prosperity, goodwill and peace. There are many ways an individual community celebrates Makar Sankranti. But, the underlying feelings and emotions are same, that is, the well-begin of the community and people around us. This is an important religious festival that is celebrated with zeal with one aim in mind, peace and brotherhood. This festival is truly the apt example of 'Unity in Diversity'.