Makar Sankranti is one of the very few Hindu festivals that follow the Solar Calendar as others mostly follow the Lunar Calendar. It falls more or less the same day as the Gregorian Calendar, which is, 14th January. The reason behind the nomenclature of Makar Sankranti is, it marks the beginning of the Sun’s transit into Makar, i.e., Capricorn. And the Sun is considered as one of the main deities in Hindu culture since Vedic ages, worshipping the Sun God is also an important part of the festivities.
According to the Indian Mythology, on this day, Sankarasur, the demon, was killed by the legend Sankranti. On the day following Makar Sankranti, demon Kinkarasur was slain by the female deity (Devi).
Different parts of the country observe different festivities during this time and call the Sankranti by different names. It marks the end of the harvest season.
In Kashmir Valley, it is celebrated as Shishur Saenkraat. In other parts of north India such as Haryana, parts of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, it is called Maghi.
Maghi: This is mainly popular among the Sikh communities. One of the rituals of this occasion that deserve mention includes having Kheer. Rauh di kheer or rice cooked in sugarcane juice is a type of kheer which is very popular in this festival. Khichdi cooked with lentils, jaggery and raw sugarcane are among the other foodstuffs that are consumed at this time. Maghi fairs are common at various places that see the gathering of people from the community.
Lohri: In Punjab, Lohri is celebrated by lighting bonfire, buying new clothes, distribution of sweets. Eating rewri, popcorn and gajjak is also considered as an important part of the festival.
The eastern parts of the country also observe celebrations in huge scale. In Assam, Magh Bihu is observed and in Bengal (also in Bangladesh apart from West Bengal) Poush Sankranti is celebrated.
Poush Sankranti: Varieties of Desserts called Pithe and Puli are prepared in the households using rice-flour, molasses (gur) and milk as the chief ingredients. Offering prayers to the Sun God, offering rice and jaggery to water and donating generously to the poor are also common. Coming to the western part of the country, Uttarayan is celebrated in Gujarat during this time. The name originates from the ascent of the Sun towards the northern sky during this time. Though Uttarayan is not essentially the same as Makar Sankranti, it somewhat overlaps with the latter and rituals are observed on account of it by the Gujaratis. Flying Kites is an integral part of the festival which continues for two days. Sweets and chikkis made of sesame are among the food which people enjoy having during this time.
Kicheri: In Uttar Pradesh, Kicheri is observed which is featured with worshipping God and traditional bathing. The different holy places of the state like Varanasi and Allahabad along with Haridwar of Uttarakhand see the gathering of a huge number of people during this time. People engage themselves in charities and Kumbha Mela, the huge religious gathering takes place around this time.
Makar Sankranti (Maharashtra): In Maharashtra, Makar Sankranti is observed across a time span of three days. Exchange of colorful Halwa, til-gul laddoo, Puran-Poli and greeting people with the best wishes is an inseparable part of Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra. Women observe Haldi-Kunku and wear black clothes for the same. People try to forget all hostilities and establish social harmony.
In Tamil Nadu, Pongal is celebrated during this time. It is a four-day-long celebration.
Bhogi Pandigai: This is the first day of the festival where people thank God Indra, the deity of rains for gifting them with sufficient rain for their crops. They also burn their old clothes as a symbol of the destruction of old and welcoming the new.
Thai Pongal: It is also known as Surya Pongal and is the main day of Pongal. Pongal, which is rice mixed with jaggery and milk prepared in a new earthen pot, is offered to Sun God. On this occasion, women create beautiful patterns called as Kolam at the entrance of the house.
Mattu Pongal: Day three, known as Mattu Pongal, the farm animals are bathed and decorated beautifully. The horns are painted and wrapped with garlands. Finally, tilak is applied on their forehead and offered with Pongal. They are also taken around the village on a tour.
Kaanum Pongal: Kaanum Pongal, also known as Karinaal, the last day of Pongal, involves worshipping the Sun God. People offer sugarcane to God as well as exchange it among themselves. It is a symbol of joy and sweetness in the lives of people. During this time, they visit the homes of their acquaintances and loved ones. Folk songs and dances are performed as a part of the celebrations.
This is how Makar Sankranti is celebrated across the country among people of different cultures. Though they call it by different names and the rituals differ from one place to the other, the indomitable spirit makes Makar Sankranti an auspicious occasion of India.
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