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Makar Sankraanti or Pongal

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Sankraanti or Pongal
January 14th    From -     see also Sankraanti

In Hindu calendar there are total twelve Sankraanti in a year.

Among all the Sankraanti Makar Sankraanti, which falls on 14th January (sometimes on 13th or 15th January) is the biggest Sankraanti. It is called Makar Sankraanti, because from this day the Sun begins his Northward journey (Uttaraayan) - he enters the sign of Makar (Capricorn). This day has a very special significance because from this day the night hours starts getting decreased and the day hours getting increased. This day is celebrated as a festival right from the times of the Aaryans and is looked upon as the most auspicious day by the Hindu.

Sankraanti is the day when Soorya (Sun) transits in another Raashi (Sign of Zodiac). Since there are 12 Raashi and Soorya transits in all of them in one year. As he will transit each of them; there are 12 Sankraanti each year - one per month. Normally all of them fall around 13th or 14th day of the month. See also  When Should We Celebrate Makar Sankraanti?

The evidence of this festival being lucky is found in our great epic Mahaabhaarat wherein it is told that the great warrior-hero, Bheeshm Pitaamaha even after being wounded and lying on the bed of arrows, lingered on till Uttaraayan set in, to breathe his last. It is believed that the person who dies on this auspicious day of Sankraanti escapes the cycle of birth and re-birth and that his soul mingles with the Almighty. He also got freed from the cycle of birth and death.

This festival is celebrated differently in different parts of the country yet the use of Til (sesame seeds) that is found everywhere. Til and rice are two important ingredients of this festival. In the rice-eating belt of Bihaar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, people have a special rice-centric meal on this day. Til contain lot of oil and they therefore have a quality of softness in them. Therefore, Til being soft their exchange means exchange of love and tender feelings.

It is a way of giving thanks to the elements of nature that help man. This is the period when the winter recedes, paving the way for the summer. It is the time the farmers bring home their harvest. In the coast al regions, it is a harvest festival dedicated to Indra. In Tamil Naadu and Aandhra Pradesh, it is celebrated as a three-day harvest festival Pongal. In Aassam, the festival is celebrated as Bhogalee Bihu, and in Punjab it is called Lohadee. Makar Sankraanti is also celebrated throughout India as a harvest festival.

All the 12 Sankranti can be divided into four categories.

(1) Ayan Sankraanti / Ayanee Sankraanti
Makar Sankraanti and Kark Sankraanti are two Ayan Sankraanti which are also known as Uttaraayan Sankranti and Dakshinaayan Sankranti respectively. These are conceptually equivalent to Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice in Hindu calendar and these Ayan Sankranti are drifting apart from seasonal Solstices due to precession of the Earth. After thousands of years from now these Ayan Sankraanti will coincide again with seasonal Solstices.

Astrology, which considers precession of the Earth, is known as Sidereal Astrology and Hindu calendar is based on Sidereal Astrology. Sidereal astrology is also known as Niraayan Astrology. The counterpart of Sidereal astrology is known as Tropical or Saayan Astrology which is followed by most Western Astrologers. Precession is also known as Ayanaansh.

Uttaraayan is six month time period when the Sun moves into Northern hemisphere and Dakshinaayan is remaining six month time period when the Sun moves into Southern hemisphere. Due to precession of the Earth these definitions of Ayan Sankraanti have become incorrect.

The Sun God, also known as Soorya Dev, starts moving into Northern hemisphere about 24 days before Makara Sankranti. Currently Makar Sankranti occurs on 14th or 15th January while Winter Solstice, the movement of the Sun from Southern to Northern hemisphere, starts on 21st or 22nd December. Vaidik Astrologer and Panchaang Kartaa are aware of this fact and don't do any correction as precession has to be considered to mark the correct position of Stars.

Correct positioning of Stars is foundation of Hindu calendar and any likely correction will invalidate the whole concept of Sidereal Astrology. During Makar Sankranti the Sun God coincides with same Stars in the background which were in the original (and is still) concept to mark the day of Makar Sankraanti. During the Winter Solstice, the Sun doesn't coincide with same Stars in the background which is must to mark the day of Makar Sankraanti. Hence Hindu calendar doesn't respect seasons and let them drift but maintain the same position of the Sun (with respect to Stars in the background) to mark the day of all Sankranti including Makar Sankraanti.

According to above explanation, Hindu still celebrate Makar Sankraanti on right day however the word Uttaraayan has become misnomer with time and most Indians have accepted this fact by ignoring Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice for any religious activities. Similarly Dakshinaayan, when the Sun starts moving into Southern hemisphere falls on 21st or 22nd June about 24 days before Kark Sankranti. Kark Sankraanti currently occurs on 15th or 16th July which has drifted apart from Summer Solstice by 24 days.

For Ayan Sankraanti, auspicious time period is well written in religious texts. For Makar Sankraanti 40 Ghatee after Sankraanti and for Kark Sankranti 30 Ghati before Sankraanti is auspicious for doing all rituals related to Sankraanti.

(2) Vishuv or Sampat Sankranti
Mesh Sankraanti and Tulaa Sankraanti are two Vishuv Sankaranti which are also known as Vasant Sampat and Sharad Sampat respectively. These are conceptually equivalent to Vernal Equinox and Autumnal Equinox in Hindu calendar and these Vishuv Sankraanti are drifting apart from seasonal Equinoxes due to precession of the Earth. After thousands of years these Vishuv Sankranti will coincide again with seasonal Equinoxes. For these two Sankranti 15 Ghatee before and 15 Ghatee after Sankranti moments are considered for auspicious activities.

(3) Vishnupadee Sankranti
Sinh Sankraanti, Kumbh Sankraanti, Vrishabh Sankraanti and Vrischik Sankranti are known as four Vishnupadee Sankraanti. For all these four Sankraanti 16 Ghatee before Sankranti moments are considered for auspicious activities.

(4) Shadshiti Mukhee Sankraanti
Meen Sankraanti, Kanyaa Sankraanti, Mithun Sankraanti and Dhanu Sankraanti are four Shadshit Mukhee Sankraanti. For all these four Sankranti 16 Ghatee after Sankraanti moments are considered for auspicious activities.

Makar Sankraanti-Celebrations in Different Ways

In Uttar Pradesh, Sankraanti is called "Khichadee". Having bath on this day is regarded as most important. A mass of humanity can be seen bathing in the Sangam at Prayaag where the rivers Gangaa, Jamunaa and Saraswatee flow together. At the confluence of these holy rivers every year Kumbh Melaa is held for full one month.

In Bangaal every year a Melaa is held at Gangaa Saagar (Saagar Dweep) where the river Gangaa is believed to have dived into the nether region and vivified the ashes of the sixty thousand ancestors of King Bhageerath. This Melaa is attended by a large number of pilgrims from East India. Pilgrims gather to take a holy dip to purge them from sins and offer Til (sesame) and water to the Sun god as a thanksgiving for good harvest. Women clean the houses and make delicious sweet dishes.

In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh this festival of Sankranti is known by the name "Sukaraat" or "Sakaraat" and is celebrated with great pomp merriment accompanied by lot of sweets.

In Tamil Naadu and Aandhra Pradesh, Sankraanti is known as " 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 "Pooja" (worship) for the Sun God.

The 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.

There is also a fair in the Western Ghaat at a place called Shabaree Melaa, where the temple of the Community Goddess is decorated with dazzling lights. The Goddess is worshipped equally by all Varn people including un-touchable and the "Bhog" (Naivedya or food offerings) to the Goddess is cooked by all Varn people including un-touchable. These tribes participate in the Melaa (fair) and enjoy all together as if they belong to one single family.

Makar Sankraanti-Celebration in Mahaaraashtra, Gujaraat
In Maharashtra on the Sankranti day people exchange multi-colored Til Gul and Til-Laddoo made from Til (sesame seeds) and jaggery. Til-polis are offered for lunch and these are specialties of Mahaaraashtra. Mahaaraashtra women are proud of their excellence in preparing these delicacies. While exchanging Til Gul as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying - "til-gul ghya, god god bola" meaning "accept these Til Guls and speak sweet words".

The under-lying thought in the exchange of Til Guls 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 Mahaaraashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called "Haldee-Kumkum" and given gifts of any utensil, which the woman of the house purchases on that day. Women of Mahaaraashtra attired in beautiful apparels visit the houses of their relatives and friends, where they are welcomed with Kheer and Porridge. The hosts honor them by applying 'Kumkum'.

In Gujarat Sankraanti is observed more or less in the same manner as in Mahaaraashtra 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. Gujarat Pandit day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy on this auspicious. This festival thus help the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste and community.

Sankraanti is also celebrated as the Kite Flying Day. On this day, from early morning to late evening, the sky is filled with colorful kites. Kite flying is now a special event in Ahamadabaad held on this day. Kite flying festival is being held in important cities of Gujaraat. Designer's kites of infinite variety are displayed at the venue. It is celebrated all over Gujaraat but the excitement runs highest at Ahamadaabad, Soorat, Nadiyaad and Vadodaraa. To be in any one of these places during this festival is to feel the heart and pulse of Gujaraat and its people.

Lohadee in Panjaab-Festival of Spring
In Northern region of India, especially in Panjaab and Hariyaanaa, Lohadee signifies the harvesting of Rabee crops. Lohadee falls on 13th of January, a day before Sankraanti. The essence of celebration of Lohadee festival is to light a bonfire and worship fire.

Women before Lohadee stock quantities of Til, dry fruits, Moongphalee (groundnut or peanut), Gud (jaggery), and other crunchy snacks. In the morning of this day, children come asking for donation both in kind and money which is used in the village celebration. Women celebrate Lohadee in their own courtyard. A holy bonfire is lit and women perform dance knows as Giddaa. A bonfire is lit in the village square also. Men gather around the fire, colorfully dressed, and dance Bhaangadaa. The fire is offered dry fruits, Til and other things which are gathered by the children and individual.

Fire is worshipped before the dancing starts. Songs are sung in praise of one of the hero of Panjaab, Dhula Bhatti who was a dacoit but on the lines of Robin Hood. Young women apply Menhadee (Heenaa) on their hands and feet. They wear colorful bangles and Bindee. Heavy dresses are stitched with lots of mirror work and embroideries. It is a grand occasion for a new bride. the mother-in-law presents heavy costly clothes and jewelry to the newly wed daughter-in-law. The first Lohadee of a new-born baby is also very important. Many celebrate this occasion in a big way where all the close relatives are invited to participate on this occasion. Food served during Lohadee is non-vegetarian but hard-drinks are mostly avoided. Lohadee is a fun festival keep everyone warm, hale and hearty.

Makar Sankraanti in Karnaatak
In Karnaatak the festival of Makar Sankraanti (14th January) is called Sankraanti. People celebrate this festival with great joy. The family takes bath early in the morning and wears new clothes. Rangolee designs are put by women at the gate and in the Poojaa room. Poojaa to the household deity is performed and Prasad is offered which specifically includes sweet and hot Pongal, and Til or sesame seed mixtures. After the regular family Poojaa families visits relatives and invite them to their house. The special preparation of the day is Yellu made of the mixture of sesame seeds, pieces of jaggery, halved groundnut seeds, dried coconut pieces and fried Daal. This is given to visitors and carried to all amiliars, friends and relatives in a gesture of goodwill. In all families, sugarcane is cut up into pieces and distributed to friends and relatives. Sugar idols are offered.

Newly-weds give bunches of bananas to women and continue to do so for the first five years of marriage, increasing the number of bunches in multiples of 5 each year. If there is a new-born male child, then silver cups filled with fried savories are gifted to five or seven women. The farming community pays special reverence to their cattle on this day, as cows and bulls are respectfully washed, decorated and fed with special sugarcane and Pongal. Cattle are decorated and taken in a procession around the village with the resounding sound of drums. At night a bonfire is lit and animals are made to jump over the fire. At many places, the festival is climaxed by a kind of bullfight where young men try to wrest bundles of currency notes from the horns of a ferocious bull.

Why Do We Eat and Donate Til on Makar Sankraanti Day
Shani, in whose House, the Sun, his father, enters, loves Til (sesame seeds) and has a weakness for those! Father enters estranged Son's home (Makar or Capricorn Sign) and offers Til Laddoo and the misguided and feeling estranged son (Shani) accepts those from him and the Father Sun continues on his journey that brings increasingly more light (longer days and shorter nights!) to us.
Best watched and understood from Northern hemisphere perspectives! Not so much from around equator or less so from even southern latitudes!!



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 09/29/13