What is Makar Sankranti?
Makar Sankranti or just Sankranti is celebrated in India by various groups of people for different reasons. In astrology it is day on which the sun moves into the house of Capricorn. The name of the festival comes from combination of the Hindi word for Capricorn- Makar and the word for the movement of earth from one zodiac in the sky to another- sankranti. The day is supposed to mark the winter solstice but since calculations for the lunar calendar are not made using the tropical (standard) time scheme it falls on the 14th of January, 21 days after the actual winter solstice.
Why do we celebrate Makar Sankranti?
There are many beliefs and much folk-lore behind the celebrations of this day. One is that on this day Vishnu ended the war between the Devas and Asuras which had been going on for millenia. So for some this marks the end of negativity and a start of the era of righteous living.
Another belief is that Bhishma, who was granted a boon by his father that he would die only when he willed it, decided to be released from his mortal form. Hence it is auspicious for people to begin physical and spiritual journeys on this day.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated by different names and customs in different parts of India. It is essentially a harvest festival celebrated with great fanfare. There are melas or fairs held in many regions but one of the traditions in particular is flying kites. People of all ages take to rooftops to fly kites in an act to get closer to God.
Different Celebrations of Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti is one of the few festivals based on the Solar Calendar, as most Hindu festivals are based on the Lunar Calendar. Makar Sankranti is celebrated with different traditions across India.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the festival is celebrated for four days. Families decorate their homes with ‘muggus’ or colourful rangolis. In Maharashtra, people exchange sweets (especially those made of sesame seeds and jaggery) as tokens of goodwill. Through this exchange, they hope to forget ill-will and past animosity.
For the state of Punjab, Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of the harvest season. The evening before the festival, they light a bonfire and discard old items – a symbol of starting anew. They celebrate the festival as ‘Maghi’ and they ideally begin their day with a ritualistic bath in a river.
Assam and Bengal
The Assamese celebrate this festival as ‘Magh Bihu’ and the celebrations and feasting go on for a week. The celebrations also involve the playing of traditional games succh as ‘tekeli bhonga’ or pot breaking. In Bengal, the Goddess Lakshmi is traditionally worshipped on the day of Sankranti.
Kites come in various shapes and sizes and can be made of different types of materials. The most common type of kite is the diamond shaped kite that is light-weight and easy to fly. Have you ever flown a kite? Try it!
Click here to know a few amazing facts about the Festival of Kites.