Makar Sankranti is also known as Maghi or Makara Sankranti. The festival is celebrated by Hindus and is dedicated to Surya, the Sun God in the Hindu pantheon. This year, Makar Sankranti will be celebrated on January 15, 2020. As such, the festival is supposed to mark the first day when the sun is transiting into the Capricorn, also known as Makara. Makar Sankranti also marks the end of the month when the winter solstice, which is also referred to as the darkest night of the year, happens. It also signals that longer days are here again. As per Hindu tradition, Makar Sankranti also marks the beginning of Uttarayana, a six-month auspicious period.
Makar Sankranti Festival Across India
One of the most special aspects of this festival is that it happens to be one of those few ancient festivals celebrated by Hindus as per the solar cycle.
Hindus mostly celebrate their festivals as per the lunar calendar. The Hindu calendar itself happens to be lunisolar in nature. Since this festival is celebrated as per the solar cycle it falls on the same date on the Gregorian calendar. There are some years, however, when this date shifts by a day. Much of the blame, in this case, can be placed on the complex relative movements of the earth and the sun. These years are pretty rare though. Makar Sankranti is celebrated across India and is referred to by different names among different regions.
The Sikhs and Hindus of northern India call it Lohri, while in central India it is known as Sukarat. Hindus in Assam call it Bhogali Bihu. Hindus in Tamil Nadu and other parts of southern India call it Pongal.
How is Makar Sankranti Festival celebrated?
As may be the case with just about any and every other festival in India Makar Sankranti is celebrated with lots of decorations. People wear new clothes and savor homemade delicacies which are usually made of jaggery, gur and til. In some parts, Khichdi is also eaten. In Tamil Nadu, the festival is known as Pongal and people eat rice, which is boiled with fresh milk and jaggery. The dish is made more elaborate with toppings of cashew nuts, brown sugar and raisins.
Other integral parts of the festival are fairs or melas, bonfires, dancing, feasts, and flying of kites. In fact, Diana L Eck, a Harvard University professor and specialist at indology, has said that the Magha Mela has also been mentioned in Mahabharata. This means that the festival has been there for around 2000 years. On this day, plenty of people visit rivers and lakes sacred to them and bathe while thanking the sun. Makar Sankranti also sees Kumbh Mela, which happens to be one of the largest mass pilgrimages of the world every 12 years. It is estimated that around 40 to 100 million people take part in the same.
During this event people say a prayer that is dedicated to Surya and then bathe. It happens at a confluence named Prayaga. This is where River Ganga meets River Ya.muna. These two rivers are also accorded divine status in the Indian pantheon. It is said that Kumbh Mela was started by a sage named Adi Shankara.
Delhi and Haryana
Delhi and Haryana and many neighbouring states consider Sakraat or Sankranti to be a main festival of the year.
Churma of ghee, halwa and kheer are cooked specially on this day. One brother of every married woman visits her home with a gift of some warm clothing for her and her husband’s family. It is called “Sidha”. Women used to give a gift to their in-laws, and this rituals called “Manana”. The recipient will sit in a haweli (main palace where men sit together and share hookka). Women go to haweli to sing folk songs and give gifts.
In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Maghi. Bathing in a river in the early hours on Maghi is important. Hindus light lamps with sesame oil as this is supposed to give prosperity and drive away all sins. A major mela is held at Sri Muktsar Sahib on Maghi which commemorates a historical event in Sikh history. Culturally, people dance their famous “bhangra”. They then sit down and eat the sumptuous food that is specially prepared for the occasion. It is traditional to eat “kheer”, rice cooked in milk and sugarcane juice. It is also traditional to consume khichdi and jaggery. December and January are the coldest months of the year in the Punjab. Maghi represents the change of the season to warmer temperatures and increase in daylight.
Rajasthan and West Madhya Pradesh
“Makar Sankrati” or “Sankrat” in the Rajasthani language is one of the major festivals in the state of Rajasthan. The day is celebrated with special Rajasthani delicacies and sweets such as pheeni (either with sweet milk or sugar syrup dipped), til-paati, gajak, kheer, ghevar, pakodi, puwa, and til-laddoo.
Specially, the women of this region observe a ritual in which they give any type of object (related to household, make-up or food) to 13 married women. The first Sankranti experienced by a married woman is of significance as she is invited by her parents and brothers to their houses with her husband for a big feast. People invite friends and relatives (specially their sisters and daughters) to their home for special festival meals (called as “Sankrant Bhoj”). People give out many kind of small gifts such as til-gud (jaggery), fruits, dry khichadi, etc. to Brahmins or the needy ones.
Kite flying is traditionally observed as a part of this festival.On this occasion the sky in Jaipur and Hadoti regions is filled with kites, and youngsters engage in contests trying to cut each other’s strings
Main article: Thai Pongal
It is a four-day festival in Tamil Nadu:
Day 1 marks Bhogi Pandigai, Day 2 is Thai Pongal, Day 3 Maattu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal is celebrated on day 4.
The festival is celebrated four days from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of the Tamil month Thai.
Magh Bihu also called Bhogali Bihu is a harvest festival celebrated in Assam, India, which marks the end of harvesting season in the month of Maagha (January–February).It is the Assam celebration of Sankranthi, with feasting lasting for a week.
The festival is marked by feasts and bonfires. Young people erect makeshift huts, known as meji, from bamboo, leaves and thatch, in which they eat the food prepared for the feast, and then burn the huts the next morning.The celebrations also feature traditional Assamese games such as tekeli bhonga (pot-breaking) and buffalo fighting. Magh Bihu celebrations start on the last day of the previous month, the month of “Pooh”, usually the 29th of Pooh and usually the 14th of January, and is the only day of Magh Bihu in modern times (earlier, the festival would last for the whole month of Magh, and so the name Magh Bihu).The night before is “Uruka” (28th of Pooh), when people gather around a bonfire, cook dinner, and make merry.
During Magh Bihu people of Assam make cakes of rice with various names such as Shunga Pitha, Til Pitha etc. and some other sweets of coconut called Laru.
In Maharashtra on Makara Sankranti (मकर संक्रान्ति) day people exchange multicoloured halwa (sugar granules coated in sugar syrup) and til-gul laadoo (sweetmeats made from sesame seeds and jaggery). Gulachi poli/puran poli (गुळाची पोळी / पुरण पोळी) (flat bread stuffed with soft/shredded jaggery mixed with toasted, ground til [white sesame seeds]) and some gram flour, which has been toasted to golden in pure ghee, are offered for lunch. While exchanging til-gul as tokens of goodwill people greet each other with the words “तिळगुळ घ्या, आणि गोड-गोड बोला / til-gul ghyaa, aani goad-goad bolaa” meaning ‘Accept this til-gul (sweet) and utter sweet words’. The underlying thought in the exchange of til-gul is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends. The importance of sesame seeds is it keeps body warm and provide good oil, which is needed as winter dried up the moisture from body.In Maharashtra, similar to Andhra Pradesh Makar Sankaranti, is normally a three-day festival.
Celebrations in Goa closely resemble to that in Maharashtra. The women celebrate ‘haldi-kumkum’.
Uttarayan, as Makara Sankranti is called in Gujarati, is a major festival in the state of Gujarat which lasts for two days.
14 January is Uttarayan and 15 January is Vasi-Uttarayan (Stale Uttarayan). Gujarati people keenly await this festival to fly kites, called ‘patang’. Kites for Uttarayan are made of special light-weight paper and bamboo and are mostly rhombus shaped with central spine and a single bow.
The string often contains abrasives to cut down other people’s kites.
In Gujarat, from December through to Makara Sankranti, people start enjoying Uttarayan. Undhiyu (spicy, baked mix of winter vegetables) and chikkis (made from til (sesame seeds), peanuts and jaggery) are the special festival recipes savoured on this day.
In the major cities of Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, and Jamnagar the skies appear filled with thousands upon thousands of kites as people enjoy two full days of Uttarayan on their terraces. When people cut any kites they yell words like “kaypo chhe”, “e lapet”, “phirki vet phirki” and “lapet lapet” in Gujarati.
In Shimla District of Himachal Pradesh, Makara Sankranti is known as Magha Saaji. Saaji is the Pahari word for Sakranti, start of the new month. Hence this day marks the start of the month of Magha.
According to Hindu religious texts, on the day of Uttarayani the sun enters the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricon), i.e., from this day onwards the sun becomes ‘Uttarayan’ or it starts moving to the north. It is said that from this day, which signals a change of season, the migratory birds start returning to the hills. On Magha Saaja people wake up early in the morning and take ceremonial dips and shower in the springs or baolis. In the daytime people visit their neighbours and together enjoy khichdi with ghee and chaas and give it in charity at temples. Festival culminates with singing and Naati (folk dance).
In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, Makara Sankranti is celebrated with great gusto.
According to Indian religious texts, on the day of Uttarayani also called Ghughuti in Kumaon, the sun enters the Zodiacal sign of ‘Makara’ (Capricon), i.e. from this day onwards the sun becomes ‘Uttarayan’ or it starts moving to the north. It is said that from this day, which signals a change of season, the migratory birds start returning to the hills. On Makara Sankranti people give Khichadi (a mixture of pulses and rice) in charity, take ceremonial dips in holy rivers, participate in the Uttarayani fairs and celebrate the festival of Ghughutia or Kale Kauva. During the festival of Kale Kauva (literal translation ‘black crow’) people make sweetmeats out of sweetened flour (flour and gur) deep fried in ghee, shape them in shapes such as drums, pomegranates, knives, and swords. They are strung together and worn as necklace, in the middle of which an orange is fixed. Early in the morning children wear these necklaces and sing “Kale Kauva” to attract crows and other birds and offer them portions of these necklaces, as a token of welcome for all the migratory birds, who are now coming back after their winter sojourn in the plains.
The festival is known as Kicheri in Uttar Pradesh and involves ritual bathing. Over two million people gather at their respective sacred places for this holy bathing such as Allahabad and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Haridwar in Uttarakhand. If they cannot go in river then they bathe at home. There is a compulsion to bathe in the morning while fasting; first they bathe then they eat sweets such as til ladoo and gud laddo (known as tillava in Bhojpuri). At some places new clothes are worn on this day.
Kite flying is an inevitable part of the festival in Uttar Pradesh,as with many states of India such as Gujarat and Maharashtra. Like other places in India, the references to sweets, til (sesame seeds) and gud (jaggery) are found in the songs sung on this day.
In Odisha people prepare makara chaula or uncooked newly harvested rice, banana, coconut, jaggery, sesame, rasagola, Khai/Liaa and chhena puddings for naivedya to gods and goddesses. The withdrawing winter entails a change in food habits and intake of nourishing and rich food. Therefore, this festival holds traditional cultural significance. It is astronomically important for devotees who worship the sun god at the great Konark temple with fervour and enthusiasm as the sun starts its annual swing northwards.According to various Indian calendars, the Sun’s movement changes and the days from this day onwards become lengthier and warmer and so the Sun-God is worshiped on this day as a great benefactor. Many individuals at the start of the day perform a ritual bath while fasting.
Besides the usual rituals, people of Orissa, especially Western Orissa, reaffirm the strength of the bond of friendship with their best friends during this occasion. The practice is called ‘Makar Basiba’.
In West Bengal, Sankranti, also known as Poush Sankranti named after the Bengali month in which it falls, is celebrated as a harvest festival Poush Parbon (It falls on 14 January on the Western calendar.) The freshly harvested paddy and the date palm syrup in the form of Khejurer Gur and Patali is used in the preparation of a variety of traditional Bengali sweets made with rice flour, coconut, milk and ‘khejurer gur’ (date palm jaggery) and known as ‘Pitha’ . All sections of society participate in a three-day begins on the day before Sankranti and ends on the day after. The Goddess Lakshmi is usually worshipped on the day of Sankranti.
In the Himalayan regions of Darjeeling, the festival is as known as Magey Sakrati. It is distinctly associated with the worship of Lord Shiva. Traditionally, people were required to take a bath before sunrise and then commence their pooja. The food that is consumed consists primarily of sweet potatoes and yams.
Millions of people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar (the point where the river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal).
In the day of Makar Sankranti Hindu God Dharma is worshiped. And khichurhi or rice is offered to the God as Bhog . The day after Makar Sankranti the first day in the month Magh from Bengali calendar The Goddess Laxmi devi is worshiped. It is called Baharlaxmi Puja as the idol is worshiped in an open place.
Bihar and Jharkhand
In Bihar and Jharkhand, the festival is celebrated on 14–15 January. On 14 January, it is celebrated as Makar Sankranti or Sakraat or Khichdi (in local dialects). As in other parts of country, people take baths in rivers and ponds and feast upon seasonal delicacies as a celebration of good harvest. The delicacies include chura, gur (jaggery), sweets made of til (sesame seeds) such as tilgul, tilwa, maska, etc., curd, milk and seasonal vegetables. Kite flying festivals are organised, albeit on a small scale.
On 15 January, it is celebrated as Makraat (in some parts of the state) when people relish special khichdi (dal-rice replete with cauliflower, peas and potatoes).
The festival is one of the most important. People start their day by worshiping and putting til (sesame seeds) into fire followed by eating “dahi-chuda”, a dish made of beaten rice (chuda or poha, in Hindi, or avalakki, in Kannada) served with a larger serving of dahi (curd), with cooked kohada (red pumpkin) that is prepared specially with sugar and salt but no water. The meal is generally accompanied by tilkut and lai (laddu made of til, chuda and rice). The festive meal is traditionally made by women in groups. Since the meal is heavy, lunch is generally skipped on the day and the time is, instead, spent on socializing and participating in kite flying festivals.
At night a special khichdi is made and served with its four traditional companions, “char yaar” (four friends) — chokha (roasted vegetable), papad, ghee and achaar. Since such a rich khichdi is generally made on this festival, the festival is often colloquially referred to as “Khichdi”.
This is the Suggi or harvest festival for farmers of Karnataka. On this auspicious day, girls wear new clothes to visit near and dear ones with a Sankranti offering in a plate and exchange the same with other families. This ritual is called “Ellu Birodhu.” Here the plate would normally contain “Ellu” (white sesame seeds) mixed with fried groundnuts, neatly cut dry coconut and fine cut bella (jaggery). The mixture is called “Ellu-Bella” . The plate contains shaped sugar candy moulds with a piece of sugarcane. There is a saying in Kannada “ellu bella thindu olle maathadi” that translates to ‘eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good.’ This festival signifies the harvest of the season, since sugarcane is predominant in these parts. Ellu Bella, Ellu Unde, bananas, sugarcane, red berries, haldi and kumkum and small gift items useful in everyday lives are often exchanged among women in Karnataka.
In some parts of Karnataka, a newly married woman is required to give away bananas for five years to married women (muthaidhe/sumangali) from the first year of her marriage and increase the number of bananas in multiples of five. There is also a tradition of some households giving away red berries “Yalchi Kai” with the above. In north Karnataka, kite flying with community members is a tradition. Drawing rangoli in groups is another popular event among women during Sankranti.
An important ritual is display of cows and bulls in colourful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession. They are also made to cross a fire. This ritual is common in rural Karnataka and is called “Kichchu Haayisuvudu.”
Makara Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimala where the Makara Jyothi is visible followed by the Makaravilakku celebrations.