Makar Sankranti is a Hindu harvest festival celebrated in almost all parts of India and Nepal. The festival marks the transition of the sun into the zodiac sign of Makara rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. The day is also believed to mark the arrival of spring in India.
Makar Sankranti, apart from being a harvest festival, is also regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase in Indian culture. It marks the end of an inauspicious phase, which according to the Hindu calendar, begins around mid-December. It is believed that any auspicious and sacred ritual can be sanctified in any Hindu family from this day onwards. Scientifically, this day marks the beginning of warmer and longer days compared to the nights. In other words, Sankranti marks the termination of winter season and beginning of a new harvest or spring season.
All over India, Makar Sankranti is observed with great fanfare. However, it is celebrated with distinct names and rituals in different parts of the country. In the northern and western states of India, the festival is celebrated as the Sankranti day with special zeal and fervour. The importance of this day has been signified in ancient epics like the Mahabharata too. So, apart from socio-geographical importance, this day also holds a historical and religious significance. As it is the festival of the Sun God, and he is regarded as the symbol divinity and wisdom, the festival also holds an eternal meaning to it.
As mentioned above, the festival is celebrated differently in different parts of India. Thousands of people take a dip in the holy river Ganga and pray to the Sun God. The southern parts of India also celebrate the festival as Pongal, and in Punjab, as Maghi. In Gujarat, celebrations are huge as people offer colourful oblations to the sun in the form of beautiful kites. It stands as a symbol for reaching out to their beloved God. In rural and coastal areas, cock fights are held as an important event of this festival. As the festival is celebrated in winter, food prepared on this day is made to keep the body warm and provide energy.
Laddoos made of til (sesame seeds) mixed with jaggery is the festival’s speciality. The festival also honours and pays respect to Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge. Makar Sankranti represents a period of illumination, peace, affluence and happiness. Many melas (fairs) are held on Makar Sankranti day (January 14). The most famous among them is the Kumbh Mela which is held once in every 12 years at one of the four holy locations, namely Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nashik. The Magh Mela (or mini-Kumbh Mela) held annually at Prayag, the Gangasagar Mela (held at the head of the Ganges River), Tusu Mela in parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal and Makar Mela in Orissa are some of the other fairs celebrated on this day.