Makara Sankranti – January
Makara Sankranti is one of the most auspicious occasions for the Hindus, and is celebrated in almost all parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms, with great devotion, fervour, and gaiety. It is a harvest festival. Makara Sankranti is perhaps the only Indian festival whose date always falls on the same day every year: 14 January, with some exceptions, when the festival is celebrated on 13 January or 15 January. Makara Sankranti is also believed to mark the arrival of spring in India.
Makara Sankranti is the day when the Sun begins its movement away from the tropic of Capricorn and towards the northern hemisphere and thus it signifies an event wherein the Sun-God seems to remind their children that ‘Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya’—may you go higher and higher, to more and more Light and never to Darkness.
To Hindus, the Sun stands for knowledge, spiritual light and wisdom. Makara Sankranti signifies that we should turn away from the darkness of delusion in which we live, and begin to enjoy a new life with bright light within us to shine brighter and brighter. We should gradually begin to grow in purity, wisdom and knowledge even as the Sun does from the Day of Makara Sankranti.
The festival of Makara Sankranti is highly regarded by the Hindus from north to south. The day is known by various names and a variety of traditions are witnessed as one explores the festival in different states.
Owing to the vast geography and diversity of culture in India, this festival is celebrated for innumerable reasons and in innumerable ways depending on the climate, agricultural environment, cultural background and location. On this day children fly kites.
Scriptural and cultural significance
According to the Puranas, on this day Surya (Sun) visits the house of his son Shani (Saturn), who is the lord of the Makara rashi (Capricorn). Though the father and son duo did not get along well, the Surya made it a point to meet his son on this day. He, in fact, comes to his son’s house, for a month. This day thus symbolises the importance of the special relationship between father and son.
From Makara Sankranti starts the ‘day’ of devatas (gods), while dakshinayana (southward movement of the sun) is said to be the ‘night’ of devatas, so most of the auspicious things are done during this time. Uttarayana is also called as Devayana, and the dakshinayana’ is called Pitrayana.
It was on this day when Lord Vishnu ended the ever increasing terror of the asuras (demons) by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandara Parvata. So this occasion also represents the end of ‘negativities’ and beginning of an era of righteous living.
Maharaja Bhagiratha, performed great penance to bring Ganga down to the earth for the redemption of 60,000 sons of Maharaja Sagara, who were burnt to ashes at the Kapil Muni Ashramam, near the present day Ganga Sagara. It was on this day that Bhagiratha finally did tarpana with the Ganges water for his unfortunate ancestors and thereby liberated them from the curse. After visiting the Pataala (underworld) for the redemption of the curse of Bhagiratha’s ancestors the Ganges finally merged into the sea. A very big Ganga Sagara Mela is organised every year on this day at the confluence of River Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Thousands of Hindus take a dip in the water and perform tarpanA for their ancestors.
Another well-known reference of this day came when the great grand-sire of Mahabharata fame, Bhishma, declared his intent to leave his mortal coil on this day. He had the boon of Ichha-Mrityu (death at his will) from his father, so he kept lying on the bed of arrows till this day and then left his mortal coil on Makara Sankranti day. It is believed that the person, who dies during the period of Uttarayana, becomes free from transmigration (rebirth). So this day was seen as a definite auspicious day to start a journey or endeavours to the higher realms beyond.
Sikhs celebrate it as Maghi. The tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh tore the Beydaava written by 40 Sikhs and gave them Mukhti on this day. These 40 Sikhs later came to be known as 40 Mukhtas.
Makara Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimala where the Makara Jyothi is visible followed by the Makara Vilakku celebrations.
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