History Of Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranthi, or Sankranti is a popular Indian festival. Sankranthi has two words in it Sam (good) and kranthi (revolution). It is celebrated in many parts of the country and also in some other parts of the world with great zeal and enthusiasm. It is a harvest festival which is basically celebrated in the Hindu communities. In Indian, the states of Bihar, Bengal, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu celebrate the festival with great fervor and gusto.In Tamil Nadu the festival is known as Pongal, in Assam as Bhogali Bihu, in Punjab, as Lohiri, in Gujarat and Rajasthan, as Uttararayan. Outside India, the festival is given due importance in the countries like Nepal where it is celebrated as Maghe Sakrati or Maghi, in Thailand where it is named as Songkran and in Myanmar where it is called Thingyan.The festival of Makar Sankranti marks the day when the sun begins its northward journey and enters the sign of Makar (the Capricorn) from the Tropic of Cancer.
It is like the movement of sun from Dakshinayana (south) to Uttarayana (north) hemisphere. It is the one of the few chosen Indian Hindu festivals which has a fixed date. This day falls on the 14th of January every year according to the Hindu Solar Calendar. The festival is considered to be a day from where onwards all the auspicious ritualistic ceremonies can be solemnized in any Hindu family. This is thus considered as the holy phase of transition. Shankranti means transmigration of Sun from one zodiac in Indian astrology to the other.
As per Hindu customary beliefs, there are 12 such Sankrantis in all. But the festival is celebrated only on the occasion of Makara Sankaranti i.e. the transition of the Sun from Sagittarius (‘Dhanu’ Rashi ) to Capricorn(‘Makara’ Rasi). In this case, the zodiacs are measured sidereally, and not tropically, in order to account the Earth’s precession. That is why the festival falls about 21 days after the tropical winter solstice which lies between December 20 and 23rd. Here the sun marks the starting of Uttarayana, which means northern progress of Sun.Makar Sankranti holds special significance as on this day the solar calendar measures the day and night to be of equal durations on this day. From this day onwards, the days become longer and warmer.
Importance Of Makar Sankranti
It is the day when people of northern hemisphere, the northward path of the sun marks the period when the sun is getting closer to them. The importance of the day was signified by the Aryans who started celebrating this day as an auspicious day for festivities. The reason behind this may be the fact that it marked the onset of harvest season. Even in the epic of Mahabharata, an episode mentions how people in that era also considered the day as auspicious. Bhishma Pitamah even after being wounded in the Mahabharata war lingered on till Uttarayan set in, so that he can attain heavenly abode in auspiciuous times. It is said that death on this day to brings Moksha or salvation to the deceased.
In South India and particularly in Tamil Nadu it is a four day festival. On the last day of the month of Dhanur (Sagittarius) that is yesterday it was Bhogi, celebrated. This day is for discarding the old into flames and taking up new. Well this was observed since the time of kings and royals and at that time there were no poor to distribute and if there were poor at the time people were so generous that they would donate new things. But now instead of putting old things into fire we can at least donated them.
Significance of some of the objects (items) used for the festival.
According to sacred scripts Thila is highly sacred as it has surfaced from the body of Lord Vishnu. It is a grain related to Saturn (Shani). Makara Sankramana is an event that occurs in Makara raasi which is owned by Saturn.
This event occurs in Pushya Masam as per lunar calendar when Moon will be in the constellation of Pushyami on the full moon day. Saturn is the star lord of Pushyami Nakshathra. Sun is father of Saturn and the event (transit of Sun into Makara raasi) indicates visit of father to the son’s house.
Shat Thila karma is prescribed on the day of Makara Sankramana by usage of Thila in six ways viz.
Usage of Thila seeds on this day has acquired lot of spiritual, religious and health significance. Due to the significance given to Thila (sesame) usage during this festival it is also called as Thila Sankranthi.
Sugarcane is hard and has many knots, but when it is crushed it gives a very good and sweet juice which is converted into jaggery. This is to give a message that life is full of difficulties, when it is overcome you enjoy the bliss of Divinity. On Sankranthi day Thila + Jaggery is exchanged among the family members, friends and relatives. Eating of these two items has health significance also.
Among the vegetables Pumpkin is the largest in size that resembles large heartedness which can be preserved for a long period. It is used on this day meaning an offering of one’s virtues.
In olden days and even now in villages we observe people using Cow dung mixed with water and sprinkle it in front of the house. It is considered as a symbol of health that helps in destroying the bacteria in the atmosphere.
To resemble this, even today during this festival days we observe placing of three cow dung balls with flowers on top of it in front of the house.
The religious significance of these three cow dung balls is that they symbolically represent Lord Sri Krishna, Goverdhanagiri, and the Cow; thereby indicating that all the three are worshiped on this occasion.
Makara Sankranthi is not a festival of one state alone; rather it is celebrated across the country, even in South East Asiatic Countries irrespective of caste and creed.
In general the festival is celebrated for three days. first day is called Bhogi, second day as Makara Sankranthi and third day as Kanumu. Depending on the cultural and traditional background of each region the festival is celebrated in different ways at different places. It is also considered as beginning of a new year that usually falls in middle of January. It is known as Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu. In Gujarat it is celebrated as a Kite flying day. In the temple town of Udupi the seat of Sri Madhvacharya (founder of Dvaita/Tattvavaada Philosophy) the festival of Makara Sankramana has attained lot of significance. The idol of Lord Sri Krishna (Bala Krishna) at Udupi temple was installed by Sri Madhvacharya on the day of Makara Sankramana.
Once in two years around this time a ritual called PARYAAYA is held. This is to indicate the change of seat of power among the Heads of eight Mutts to perform and administer the famous temple of Lord Sri Krishna at Udupi. Lots of people across the country gather together on this occasion to witness the rituals.
Bathing festival and religious fair called Magha Mela begins on this day at Prayaaga (Allahabad). It is said that while carrying the nectar pot (Amrita Kalasa) by Lord Vishnu, few drops of nectar fell at Allahabad (Prayaaga), Haridwar, Nasik, and Ujjain. These holy places (Theerthas) have acquired significant reputation where human beings could wash their sins by way of sacred bath at these places. Taking bath at these places on the day of Makara Sankranthi has attained lot of spiritual significance.