Makar Sankranti is an auspicious day in Indian culture and is dedicated to the almighty Surya. This day has historical, spiritual as well as scientific significance. It is set by the solar cycle and corresponds to the exact timing of the astronomical events of transition (Sankranti) of Surya into Makar Rashi (Capricorn). This day marks the termination of cold & harsh winter season and the beginning of longer & warmer days with the onset of spring season. It usually falls on 14th January of the Gregorian calendar and on 15th January in the case of leap years.
Most of the Sanatan Dharma festivals are based on lunar events. Makar Sankranti is one of the rare Indian festivals, which is based on a Solar event. The Gregorian year 2010 observed the special occasion when solar event coincided with the lunar event of Amavasya and had witnessed a great Surya Grahan (Solar eclipse). Makar Sankranti is the festival to thank nature for its abundant resources and has a special time for farmers as it marks the beginning of the harvest season. Farmers across the country pay their gratitude to Surya Dev and wish for a good crop. As cows and bullocks are the centre of farming families, they are also worshiped in different parts of the country. This festival has no gender-centric rituals and signifies equal importance to every individual in nature.
Before this day the Sun shines on the Southern Hemisphere, i.e. Dakshinayan; due to which the nights are longer and days are shorter. The period from Karka Sankranti to Makar Sankranti is known as Dakshinayan. From Makar Sankranti the Sun begins its journey towards the Northern Hemisphere i.e. Uttarayan journey, resulting in longer days and shorter nights. According to religious scriptures, Dakshinayan is the night of Devi-Devtas and signifies negativity, whereas Uttarayan is said to be the day of the Devi-Devtas and a sign of positivity.
Makar Sankranti is the beginning of the month of Magh, hence the Mela held on this day is termed as MaghMela. Many Melas are held on this auspicious day in different parts of the country, the most significant being the KumbhMela and the Ganga SagarMela. KumbhMela is held every 12 years at four sacred locations Haridwar, Prayag, Nashik and Ujjain. People take ritual bath in rivers or other nearby water courses, worship Surya Dev and chant the Gayatri Mantra. The day holds special importance for Indians, particularly the Sikh sect, as two elder sons and forty Shishya/Sikhs (ChalisMukte) sacrificed their lives to protect Guru Govind Singh Ji Maharaj from huge Mughal Army. MaghiMela is organised in Muktsar in the memory of these patriots. In the Mahabharat Dharma Yuddha, severely injured BhishmaPitamah waited for his death till the day of Uttarayan of Surya Dev for Mokshaprapti.
There are one nation numerous celebrations on Makar Sankranti as it is observed all over the Indian sub-continent with various other provincial names such as Maghi/Bhogali Bihu (Assam), Maghi (Punjab), Sakarat (Hariyana), TilSakarat (Bihar), Uttarayan (Jammu, Gujarat), ShishirSankrant (Kashmir), Pongal (Tamilnadu), MaghraVolaku (Kerala) etc. In foreign countries it is known as Maghe Sankranti (Nepal), PoushSangkranti (BangalaDesh), Songkranti (Siam/Thailand), Thingyan (Burma), Mohan Songkranti (Combodia).
This day is observed with Mela (MaghMela), Patangbaji (Kite Flying), bonfires, dances etc. Dahi-Chura, Gud, Bhura, Tilkut, Tilwa, TilLaddoo or Anarsa, Kangsubi, Khichdi, Pitha of boiled rice etc. are the traditional dishes of the day. The Til consumed is said to pury the soul. As per BharatiyaPanchang (calender), this day marks the end of Kharmaas and resumption of all auspicious events or ceremonies such as engagement, marriage, Namankan Sanskar, Mundan, Grih-Pravesh (House warming), purchasing new vehicle/property, laying foundation stone etc.
The immunity of the body increases by the consumption of the food items such as Chuda, Curd, Jaggery,Sesame, Groundnut etc. eaten on the occasion of Makar Sankranti. The protein present in sesame provides full strength and energy to the body and metabolism works well. Jaggery has the ability to purify the blood and keeps the digestive system healthy. Curd acts as an anti-oxidant and balances the cholesterol level of the body. Due to the high fiber in Chuda, it makes the digestive system smooth and there is no problem of constipation. Calcium and Vitamin-D are found in sufficient quantity in groundnut. In this way, the food eaten during Makar Sankranti increases the immunity of the human body.
A festival is said to be a binding force between communities. It infuses new energy in people’s life and facilitates them to move forward with great enthusiasm. Makar Sankranti, with different names but having same rituals and objectives, is celebrated across the length and breadth of the country and it signifies the unity among the diversity of our culturally rich civilization.
(The Author is a technocrat and educationist)