Makar Sankranti Festival
This is a Hindu festival celebrated on the day the sun enters the zodiac sign (rashi) of Capricorn (Makar) called as Makar sankranti. To compensate for the gap occurring due to the revolution of the sun, every eighty years the day of Makar sankranti is postponed by one day. The northward revolution (Uttarayan) of the sun begins on this day. In the year 2007, Makar sankranti falls on January 14.
The period from the passage of the sun into the zodiac sign of Cancer (Karka) till the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makar sankranti) is called the southward revolution (dakshinayan). A person who dies during this period of the southward revolution of the sun has a greater chance of going to the southward region (hell or Yamalok) than one who dies during the northward revolution.
Sankranti is considered to be a deity. According to Hindu mythology, the deity Sankranti slayed a demon called Sankarasur on the day of Makar sankranti. The Hindu religious almanac (Panchang) provides detailed information on the form, age, clothing, direction of movement, etc., of the deity Sankranti in accordance to the changes occurring as per the time (kal). The day followed by Makar sankrant is called Kinkrant or Karidin. On this day, the female deity (devi) slayed the demon Kinkarasur.
Applying the Kumkum between the eye-brows
According to the science of Spirituality, during the period of the passage of the sun into Capricorn, since sesame seeds (or sesame oil) have greater ability to absorb sattva frequencies than any other seeds or their oil, they facilitate smooth spiritual practice during this period. According to Ayurveda, since Makar sankrant falls in winter, consumption of sesame seeds is beneficial, as the oil in the sesame seeds generates body heat, preventing the ill effects of the cold. Hence, maximum use of sesame seeds is made on Makar sankranti.
Thus, in celebration of Makar sankranti, one should bathe with water containing sesame (oil or seeds), eat and distribute sweets containing sesame seeds, such as tilgul (sesame seeds coated with sugar syrup or jaggery), offer sesame seeds to brahmans (Hindu priests), lighting lamps of sesame oil in a temple of Lord Shiva, and perform a rite for one's departed ancestors (pitrushraddha) by making an offering of sesame. The use of sesame in an offering to ancestors (shraddha) prevents negative energies like demons, etc., from posing obstacles in the rite.
(Reference: Publication of Sanatan Sanstha)
Culture & Festivities
This festival is celebrated differently in different parts of the country.
In Uttar Pradesh, Sankranti is called Khichiri. Taking a dip in the holy rivers on this day is regarded as most auspicious. A big one-month long Magha-Mela fair begins at Prayag (Allahabad) on this occasion. Apart from Triveni, ritual bathing also takes place at many places like Haridvar and Garh Mukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna in Bihar.
In Bengal every year a very big Mela is held at Ganga Sagar where the river Ganga is believed to have dived into the nether region and vivified the ashes of the sixty thousand ancestors of King Bhagirath. This mela is attended by a large number of pilgrims from all over the country.
In Tamil Nadu Sankranti is known by the name of Pongal, which takes its name from the surging of rice boiled in a pot of milk, and this festival has more significance than even Diwali. It is very popular particularly amongst farmers. Rice and pulses cooked together in ghee and milk is offered to the family deity after the ritual worship. In essence in the South this Sankrant is a Puja (worship) for the Sun God.
In Andhra Pradesh, it is celebrated as a three-day harvest festival Pongal. It is a big event for the people of Andhra Pradesh. The Telugus like to call it 'Pedda Panduga' meaning big festival. The whole event lasts for four days, the first day Bhogi, the second day Sankranti, the third day Kanuma and the fourth day, Mukkanuma.
In Karnataka, the festival is marked by visiting one's friends and relatives to exchange greetings, and by the preparation of a dish called Ellu (made with sesame seeds, coconuts, sugar blocks, etc). A common custom found across Karnataka is the exchange of sugarcane pieces and Ellu with one's neighbors, friends and relatives. In Karnataka, Pongal is known as 'Sankranti', and cows and bullocks are gaily decorated and fed 'Pongal'- a sweet preparation of rice. Special prayers are offered. In the evening, the cattle are led out in procession to the beat of drums and music. In the night a bonfire is lit and the animals are made to jump over the fire.
Makar Sankranti is marked by men, women and children wearing colorful clothing; visiting near and dear ones; and exchanging pieces of sugarcane, a mixture of fried til, molasses, pieces of dry coconut, peanuts and fried gram. On this auspicious day, people in Karnataka distribute Yellu and bella (Sesame seeds and Jaggery) and greet with the words " Ellu bella thindu, Olle Maathu Aadu (Eat sesame seeds and speak only good). The significance of this exchange is that sweetness should prevail in all the dealings.
Ornaments made of sugar balls
In Maharashtra on the Sankranti day people exchange multi-colored tilguds made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. Til-polis are offered for lunch. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying til-gul ghya, god god bola meaning accept these tilguls and speak sweet words. The under-lying thought in the exchange of tilguls is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends. This is a special day for the women in Maharashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called Haldi-Kumkum and given gifts of any utensil, which the woman of the house purchases on that day. Hindus wear ornaments made of sugar balls (also called halwa) on this day.
In Gujarat Sankranti is observed more or less in the same manner as in Maharashtra but with a difference that in Gujarat there is a custom of giving gifts to relatives. The elders in the family give gifts to the younger members of the family. The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy. This festival thus helps the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste and community. Kite flying has been associated with this festival in a big way. It has become an internationally well-known event.
In Punjab where December and January are the coldest months of the year, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankranti and which is celebrated as "LOHARI". Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together. The following day, which is Sankranti, is celebrated as MAGHI. The Punjabi's dance their famous Bhangra dance till they get exhausted. Then they sit down and eat the sumptuous food that is specially prepared for the occasion.
The 40 days anushthana by the devotees of Ayyappa ends on this day in Sabarimala with a big festival.
In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh this festival of Sankranti is known by the name Sakarat and is celebrated with great pomp & merriment accompanied by lot of sweets.
Tribals of Orissa:
Many tribals in our country start their New Year from the day of Sankranti by lighting bonfires, dancing and eating their particular dishes sitting together. The Bhuya tribals of Orissa have their Maghyatra in which small home-made articles are put for sale.
In Assam, the festival is celebrated as Bhogali Bihu.
In the coastal regions, it is a harvest festival dedicated to Indra.