When is Makar Sankranti (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Hindu populations, especially India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka
Observed on January 14
Observed by Hindus
The Festival of Makar Sankranti traditionally refers to the start of the Sun’s northward journey, when it moves from Sagittarius to Capricorn, changing its direction from one zodiacal constellation to the next. Sankranti means “to move from one place to another.” Every time the Sun’s direction moves from one zodiac constellation to the next is a sankranti. There are 12 signs of the zodiac, so there are also 12 sankrantis in a year. Each sankranti is named on the basis of where the Sun is in relation to the zodiacal signs, and each one has its own significance.
However, two sankranti are extremely important: Mesh (Aries) Sankranti and Makar (Capricorn) Sankranti. Mesh Sankranti is important because the solar year begins when the Sun moves into the sign of Aries, the Ram, at the vernal equinox, one of the two times in a year when day and night are equal in length. (The other is the autumnal equinox on September 21.) Makar Sankranti is the Hindu celebration of the winter solstice, the time when the days start to become longer and the nights shorter. This festival has been observed since the Aryans came to the Indian subcontinent, and it is still considered a favorable day by Hindus because it marks the end of winter. In Sanskrit the Sun’s change is known as Uttarayana (“north-coming” or “northward journey”).
Makar Sankranti is possibly the only Indian festival celebrated on the same day every year because, unlike other Hindu festivals, its celebration is determined by to the solar calendar. The other festivals in India are scheduled according to the Hindu lunar calendar.
Origins and History
During Makar Sankranti the Sun appears to enter the Northern Hemisphere. The Sun in Hindu mythology is Pratyaksha Brahman, the manifest, all-perceiving God who symbolizes the singular, brilliant, glorious divinity that blesses one and all constantly. The Sun transcends the parameters of time and also moves the wheel of time.
The Sun not only symbolizes divinity but is also considered a personification of wisdom and knowledge. The sacred Gayatri Mantra, which is recited by Hindu devotees everyday, asks the Sun god to grant wisdom and intelligence.
The Puranas say that on this day the Sun enters the house of Shani, who is his son and the swami (“lord”) of Makar Rashi (“Capricorn”). Father and son do not actually get along, but in spite of their differences, they make it a point to meet each other on this day. It is the father who visits the son for a month. This day emphasizes the significance of the father-son relationship.
Hindus believe that it was on Makar Sankranti that Lord Vishnu put an end to the growing menace of the Asuras (“Demons”) by destroying them and burying their heads under the Mandarin Parvat (a mountain located near Bhagalpur in Bihar, India).
Thus, this occasion also symbolizes the end of evil and the start of an era of virtuous living.
According to Hindu mythology, in ancient times there lived a king named Sagar. When he was about to perform the Ashwamedh Yagna (horse sacrifice), the sacrificial horse got lost. The king’s 60,000 sons traveled to many places trying to find it. They finally spotted the missing horse at the ashram dwelling of a great sage named Kapil, and they accused him of theft. The furious sage reduced the princes to ashes.
When he heard what had happened to his sons, King Sagar begged the sage for mercy. The sage, after much coaxing, said that the dead souls would be allowed to attain salvation, only if their sins were washed away by the waters of the sacred Ganga (or Ganges). Things finally began to move when Bhagirath performed penance and managed to please the gods. With Lord Shiva’s aid Bhagirath, the grandson of King Sagar, managed to bring the goddess Ganga down to Earth incarnated as the river Ganges, and his ancestors were finally redeemed.
To commemorate this mythological event, a massive Ganga Sagar Mela, or fair, is organized where the river Ganges enters the Bay of Bengal, completing its long journey from its source high in the mountains.
Thousands of devotees take a dip in the waters at this spot and perform tarpan (a ritual offering of water symbolizing peace) for their ancestors.
In India, where the festival is a major event, kites are traditionally flown. A contest is held in which the aim is to slash the threads of and capture as many kites as possible, thereby emerging as the winner. The windy weather at this time of year is ideal for flying kites.