Culture

Makar Sankranti

festival of flying kites
Makar Sankranti - a festival of flying kites.

Makar Sankranti is celebrated in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh as a festival of flying kites.

Also the first day of spring. People celebrate by eating til laddus and taking out their trendiest kites.

Meaning

Makara literally means 'Capricorn' and Sankranti is the day when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. The Sankranti of any month is considered auspicious as it signifies afresh start.

However Makara Sankranti is celebrated in the month of Magha when the sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn.

This feast is celebrated on January 14th, and is the only feast of the Indian calendar which is not celebrated on a fixed day of the lunar month. On this day the sun enters the constellation of Makar (Croco-dile) and begins to move towards the north.

Throughout the year the sun passes through twelve constellations: Mesh (Ram, Aries), Vrishabh (Bull, Taurus), Mithun (Couple, Gemini), Kark (Crab, Cancer), 5mb (Lion, Leo), Kanya (Girl, Virgo), Tula (Balance, Libra), Vrishchik (Scorpion), Dhanu (Bow, Saggitarius), Makar (Crocodile, Capricorn), Kumbh (Wateijar, Aquarius), Mm (Fish, Pisces). When the sun does not cross any constellation then there is an extra month called "Adhik Mas". The crossing of the Makar constellation takes place in the month of Paush.

"Tilgul", Symbol of Friendship On this day people eat "Khichadi" made of rice and dal. The Paush month is also known as Dhundhur Mas and people eat "bajari" bread mixed with "til" (Sesamum). On the feast of Sankrant "til" is given great importance, for in this season it is considered to have special nutritive and medicinal qualities. "Til" is a very oil-giving seed. Mixed with jaugari or sugar it becomes a very sticky sweet which people exchange with one another as a sign of friendship.

"Tilgul ghya, god bola." ("Take tilgul and speak sweetly") is the phrase on everybody's lips. With this good social custom enmities are forgotten and new friendships started. People are encouraged to emulate the quality of "Tilgul" and stick to-gether in permanent union and love. On this day ladies apply "halad-kumkum" (turmeric powder) on each other's forehead, and children fly kites. Many people take bath at Prayag, near Allahabad, at the meeting point of the Ganges and the Yamuna.

Makara Sankranti is also celebrated throughout India as a harvest festival. It is a way of giving thanks to the elements of nature that help man. This is the period when the winter recedes, paving the way for the summer. It is the time the farmers bring home their harvest. In the coast al regions, it is a harvest festival dedicated to Indra.

In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, it is celebrated as a three-day harvest festival Pongal. In Assam, the festival is celebrated as Bhogali Bihu, and in Punjab it is called Lohri.

In North India, a ritual bath in the river is important on this day. In fact, bathing is considered mandatory on this day, and according to a popular local belief in the hills of Uttar Pradesh, one who does not bathe on Makara Sankranti is born a donkey in his next birth.

The belief probably originated in cold climates to compel some of the more reluctant people to observe certain rules of hygiene. A big fair is held at the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Sarasvati rivers at Triveni in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) on this occasion. Being the month of Magha, this fair is also called Magha Mela. Apart from Triveni, ritual bathing also takes place at many places like Haridvar and Garh Mukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna in Bihar.

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