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Makar Sankranti: Harvest Sun’s bounties

Makar Sankranti: Harvest Sun’s bounties
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Lohri and Makara Sankranti - both the festivals are known as the harvest fiesta. Celebrations of Lohri are restricted to Punjabi communities across country, while Makar Sankranti is the festivity commonly celebrated in most of the states and in Nepal with different name and style.

Makar Sankranti is considered very auspicious and is celebrated in a myriad of cultural forms, with great devotion, fervour, and gaiety. Both festivals are perhaps the only festival whose date always falls on the same day every year: 13 January and 14 January. The festival marks arrival of spring in the country. 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 the country, the 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.

As our Indian calendar is based on lunar positions, Sankranti is a solar event. So while dates of all Hindu festivals keep changing as per the Gregorian calendar, the date of Makara Sankranti remains constant over a long term, 14 January. Makara Sankranti is celebrated in the month of Magha.

Many also conflate this festival with the winter solstice, and believe that the sun ends its southward journey (Dakshinayana) at the Tropic of Capricorn, and starts moving northward (Uttarayaana) towards the Tropic of Cancer, in the month of Pausha on this day in mid-January. There is no observance of winter solstice in the Hindu religion. Makara Sankranti commemorates the beginning of the harvest season and cessation of the northeast monsoon in southern part of the country. The movement of the Sun from one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti and as the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac known as Makara in Sanskrit, this occasion is named as Makara Sankranti.

Apart from a harvest festival, Makar Sankranti is also regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase in Indian culture. It is said as the 'holy phase of transition'. It marks the end of an inauspicious phase which begins around mid-December. It is believed that any auspicious and sacred ritual can be sanctified in any Hindu family, this day onwards. Scientifically, this day marks the beginning of warmer and longer days compared to the nights. In other words, Sankranti marks the end of winter season and beginning of a new harvest or spring season.

The importance of this day has been signified in the ancient epics like Mahabharata also. Apart from socio-geographical importance, this day also holds a historical and religious significance. As it is the festival of Sun god and he is regarded as the symbol divinity and wisdom, the festival also holds an eternal meaning to it. The festival has different names and celebrated in different colours across the country. The festival is known as Makar Sankranti in the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. It is celebrated as Uttarayan in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, while the celebrations on this occasion in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab is termed as Maghi. The Punjab celebrates this festival as Lohri one day prior to Makar Sankranti on 13 January. In Tamil Nadu this festival is known as Pongal, while in Assam it is celebrated as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu. Kashmir Valley tr'eats this celebration as Shishur Saenkraat and in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh it is known as Makara Sankramana.

As like other festivals, this festival has legends too. 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.

Another legend has it that 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 tarpan for their ancestors.
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