Makar Sankranti: Significance, Rituals and Celebrations

Sankranti (also spelled as Saṁkrānti) marks transmigration of Sun (Lord Surya) from one zodiac to another as per ancient Indian Vedic astronomy. The auspicious festival of Makar Sankranti is dedicated to Lord Surya (Sun God), who is worshipped along with Goddess Lakshmi, and Lord Vishnu. There are 12 Sankranti in a year, and the word ‘Makar’ means the rashi of ‘Makara’ or the Capricorn zodiac. It is believed that on this day, the Sun enters the rashi of Makara and starts moving northwards. It is a major festival that is celebrated on the 14th or 15th of January every year (on 15th of January on leap years), across the Indian subcontinent.

Indians observe Makar Sankranti festival with much pomp and show. The first crops of the year are harvested, and offerings are made to the Gods and Goddess. People take a ceremonial bath, witnessing the first rays of the Sun. Sweets, clothes, etc. are distributed, and people shroud themselves in happiness and opulence. Makar Sankranti is also celebrated as a harvest festival across the Indian Subcontinent.

Makar Sankranti image

Rituals and Celebrations

The festival of Makar Sankranti also marks the harvesting season for different crops like paddy, sugarcane, groundnut, turmeric, sweet potatoes, till seeds, and other food grains. Farmers worship their cattle, farming tools, and land, thanking them for a good harvest and praying for a good crop as blessings throughout the year. Hence, for Indians, the festival brings with it prosperity and blessings. Different regions of India have various traditional practices and rituals to celebrate this auspicious occasion. People of every religion take part in the festivity, showing brotherhood, and love for each other.

Makar Sankranti or Maghi Sankranti in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala

Sankranti holds a very special place among the people of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The clear blue skies put up a colourful appearance with hundreds of colourful kites. Relatives gather and help each other in preparing traditional delicacies. Dancing, singing folklore are other festive indulgences that are observed. Sankranti also dominates the welfare of women.

The first Sankranti after marriage is always hosted by the parents of the woman, where she is invited with her in-laws to celebrate with the family. This ritual is known as ‘Sankrant Bhoj’. Married women give thirteen other married women gifts, to celebrate their sisterhood and spread love and understanding.

In Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, devotees perform a two-day festival of Sankranti. They begin their day with a ceremonial bath in the nearest water bodies, followed by the distribution of traditional dishes. On the second day, people of the community gather together to cook Khichdi (lentil, rice, with various vegetables) and chokha (roasted veggies), and engage in festivities such as kite flying, etc.

The Maharashtrians observe this auspicious festival by serving delicacies like til-gud, and exchanging phrases like ‘gud ghyaa, aani goad-goad bola’, which means ‘accept the sweet and speak sweet words’. The Marathis hold the view that by exchanging sweets, one learns to let go of the ill conflicts of the past, and learn to forgive others. Women perform the rituals of ‘Haldi-kutum’ to worship for the long lives of their husbands and cherish their marital life and happiness.

In Andhra Pradesh, people mark a three-day festival to observe the religious spirit. On the first day, the ritual of ‘Bhodi Panduga’ is celebrated, where people throw away old, unused items. This is followed by the ritual of ‘Pegga Panduga’ on the second day, in which guests are invited, and new clothes are given away. ‘Muggu’ designs, or designs including rangolis, pressed cow-dung, flowers, etc. adorn in the gates of the traditional houses. The third day is marked by observing ‘Kanuma’ in which farmers worship their cattle, which marks prosperity and welfare. The ritual of ‘Mukkanuma’ is performed, in which farmers make offerings to the Sun, Rain, and Earth.

In Kerala, thousands of devotees come from far, and near to have a glance of the Makara Vilakku, or the flame that comes from the Vilakku Hill, located near the Sabarimala Temple. It is the very same place from where the Makara Jyoti, the divine celestial star appears in the sky. It is believed that Lord Ayappa Swami comes in the form of the star to bless the devotees on the night of Sankranti.

Lohri and Maghi in Punjab and Haryana

Sankranti or Maghi in Punjab and Haryana is indeed a festival one must witness. Farmers begin their financial year by having the first meal from their harvested crops and selling them in the market. The rituals of Lohri are performed on the night before Sankranti. Bonfire is lit on community grounds, and people dance to every beat of the dhol. Women perform the folk dance of Giddha, and no one misses out on the experience of bhangra. New colourful clothes are worn, and delicious delicacies such as ‘makki ki roti’, and ‘sarson ka saag’ are served to the guest, followed by sweetened taste of ‘gur rewri’, ‘jaggery-peanuts’, etc.

Maghi Sankrant in Himachal Pradesh

Different districts of Himachal Pradesh witness the alluring festivities of Maghi Sankrant in different ways. Maghi Sankrant is known as Magha Saaji in the Shimala district. The word Saaji, is a Pahaari word of regional dialect, which means the ‘start of the new month’. People wake up early in the winter morning, to take the ceremonial dip in springs in presence of the first rays of sunrise. Later events include traditional get-togethers of friends, neighbours and relatives, where people enjoy khidi, ghee, and other traditional cuisines. The evening is followed by festivals, culminating the jovial spirit amidst the folk dances of Naati, and singing.

Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu in Assam

The Assamese have indeed a jovial spirit, and it is revealed by a week-long celebration of the festival of Sankranti, also known as Magh Bihu, or Bhogali Bihu. Locals make bonfires at night and sing folk songs. Young people take the responsibility of making temporary huts from bamboo, leaves, and thatch, known as ‘meji’. The family takes their meal, prepared with the newly harvested crops inside the new hut. The huts are burnt the following morning after the ritual is over. Traditional Assamese games, such as ‘tekeli bhonga’, or pot breaking, Bihu dances, etc. take place on the last day of Bhogali Bihu.

Pongal or Tai Pongal in Tamil Nadu

Pongal is the most important festival of Tamil Nadu, which is observed for a period of three days. The first day is marked by observing a puja at the field, before cutting the first paddy. Farmers worship natural elements like Sun and earth by putting a paste of sandalwood in their ploughs, sickles, etc. After the puja, they reap the first grains and feed their families. This is known as ‘Bhogi Pongal’. The second day is marked by worshipping the Sun-God, and is known as ‘Surya Pongal’. Delicacies of milk and jaggery are offered to the Sun-God. The third day is known as the ‘Mattu Pongal’, and on this day the cattle are bathed and cleaned. Cattle owners put various colours on the horns of their cattle, and offer food to them.

Uttarayan in Gujrat

Makar Sankranti also called Uttarayan in Gujrat lasts for two days. The first day of the festival, which is on January 14th, is known as Uttarayan, and the second day or January 15th is known as Vasi Uttarayan. Festivities like flying kites are mandatory, and often one can hear the yells of ‘kai poh che’ from the victor of the kite flying competitions. Regional sweet delicacies such as chikkis, sesame sweets, dry fruits, etc. are prepared in every traditional Gujrati family and distributed among relatives, friends, and neighbours.

Poush Sonkranti in Bengal

Poush Sonkranti, or Poush Parbon is a festival of great enthusiasm among the Bengalis. Traditional customs involve the preparation of ‘pithes’, or sweet delicacies made of rice flour, and jaggery. Household goddesses, such as Lakshmi Devi, Lord Vishnu are worshipped along with prayers of the harvest to the Sun-God. One can often witness the tunes of ‘ulu’, a sound made with the tongue, at midnight, from which the day of Sonkranti commences. Religious gatherings like Gangasagar Mela are held every year in the district of South 24 Parganas, which is attended by thousands of people.

Makara Sankranti in Odisha

Makara Sankranti, also known as Makara Chaula in Odisha, is observed by both the Adivasi tribes, and other citizens. People prepare a traditional food named ‘makara chaula’ with newly harvested rice, banana, coconut, jaggery, sesame, cardamom, ginger, and chhena puddings for divine offerings. Besides engaging in singing, dancing, and distributing food among the community members, the Adivasis, constituting almost 40% of the Oriya people, engage in selling their handmade wares, which display their tradition, and artistic prowess. Devotees throng at the Sun Temple at Konark and pay offerings to the Almighty Sun-God. Local fairs and singing folklore take place in the temple premises during the night.

Suggi Habba in Karnataka

Just like the Marathis, the people of Karnataka perform a ritual to spread the sweetness of relationships and bonds. This ritual is known as ‘Ellu Birodhu’, where they exchange a regional delicacy of ‘Ellu Bella’, made of sugarcane, sesame seeds, jaggery, coconuts, etc. Farmers celebrate the ritual called ’suggi’, meaning ‘harvest festival’. Colourful costumes are adorned over bulls, and cows and farmers perform the ritual of ‘Kichchu Haayisuvudu’, in which they jump over a small ignited flame with their bull.

Khichdi Parv in Uttar Pradesh

The festival of Makar Sankranti is known as Khichdi Parv in Uttar Pradesh. Devotees celebrate the festival with much devotion and enthusiastic spirit. The main traditions involve bathing in the holy water of the Ganges, followed by offerings to God. Around two million people throng at Allahabad and Varanasi in UP, and Haridwar in Uttarakhand to take the holy dip in the sacred waters.

Kumbh Mela, the great and pompous religious gathering is witnessed in UP during Khichdi Parv. People throughout India and several parts of the world come to seek blessings and take part in this religious gathering.

Maghe Sankranti in Nepal

Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Maghe Sankranti in Nepal, observed on the 1st of Magh month – according to the Vikram Sambat calendar, bringing an end to the winter solstice containing month of Poush. Families get together in the first of Magh and eat meals together. They do share Til Laddoo, Ghee, Sweet potatoes during this festive occasion. The priest wishes good health and a better future for all family members. The first of Magh also consider as the beginning of Tharu New Year, celebrated by the Tharu communities of Nepal.

Legends associated with the festival of Makar Sankranti

Several legends attach various beliefs and tales regarding the festival of Sankranti. The Vedic legend holds the view that the Gods undergo a period of slumber during the month of Poush (the month before Magh). However, during the month of Makar Sankranti, the Gods remain fully awake, which marks the beginning of the auspicious phase. Therefore, Indians conduct several occasions of importance, such as marriages, naming ceremonies, etc. so that they secure the blessings of the divine.

The earliest historical references of Makar Sankranti can be traced from Mahabharata, in 3102BC. It is believed that Bhishma, the great warrior was overpowered by the arrows of Arjuna during the epic battle of Kurukshetra. In accordance with the boon granted by his father, he chose the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti to leave his mortal body. Hindus believe that those who die on this auspicious day are free from the cycle of Samsara.

Legends believe that on the day of Makar Sankranti, Lord Krishna lifted up the entire Govardhan Parvat with his little finger to save the villagers from the wrath of Lord Indra, who caused thunder, lightning, and a heavy downpour.

According to some legends, Lord Sun and his son Lord Shani had a conflicting relationship. On this auspicious day of Makar Sankranti, Lord Surya visits his son, Lord Shani, who is considered as the Lord of Makar Rashi (Capricorn), and finally forgives him. Thus, Makar Sankranti is also marked as a day of forgiveness, for forgetting past quarrels and signifying the importance of relationships.

Several other legends such as Lord Vishnu killing Asura, thus marking the end of evil and negativity, the Sun-god making a visit to his son, Shani, etc. are propagated among devotees which mark the importance of the festivity.

Contributed by Promila G.
Edited and Published by Team MandirOnline