Date Written : Jan 14, 2005
Makar Sankranti -- The oldest solstice celebration.
Winter was a very difficult time for all primitive agrarian societies from east to west. The end of the growing season meant that the people had to live mostly on the food they had stored. In addition, the sun appeared in the sky for shorter and shorter periods each day, giving rise to the fear that it might disappear altogether, leaving the world in darkness and cold. The strengthening of the sun following the solstice was a reason for celebration, signifying the return of hope for a new spring. The concept of the birth, death and rebirth of the sun became associated with the winter solstice and thus with the savior god of many cultures.
The different dates for these celebrations are due to the precession of the equinoxes, which moves the date of the solstice backwards approximately one day every two thousand years. Currently, the calendar date of the winter solstice is in transition between the 21st and 22nd of December. By this definition, the oldest of the solstice celebrations is Makar Sankranti in India, which takes place on January 14th - an indication that it has been observed for over 30,000 years. Even if we offset the calendar discrepancies by 13 days, the possible age of this observance comes to about 10,000 years and still it becomes the oldest.
Across the globe there are Solstice celebrations fall on different dates; from East to West, from Shohgatsu in Japan to Christmas in Europe; the Makar Sankranti being the oldest of all.
Introduction of Makar Sankranti -- Solstice celebration in India:
On Makar Sankranti day the Sun begins its ascendancy and journey into the Northern Hemisphere, which is called as Uttarayan. Thus, it is believed that it signifies an event wherein the Gods seem to remind their children that 'Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya'. May you go higher & higher - to more & more Light and never to darkness. Sun for the Hindus stands for Pratyaksha-Brahman - the manifest God, who symbolizes, the one, non-dual, self-effulgent, glorious divinity blessing one & all tirelessly. Sun is the one who transcends time and also the one who rotates the proverbial Wheel of Time. The famous Gayatri Mantra, which is chanted everyday by every faithful Hindu, is directed to Sun God to bless them with intelligence & wisdom. Sun not only represents God but also stands for an embodiment of knowledge & wisdom.
Makar Sankranti is one of the most auspicious day for the Hindus, and is celebrated in almost all parts of the India, with great devotion, fervor & gaiety. Lakhs of people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar & Prayag and pray to Sun God.
It is celebrated in southern part of the India as Pongal, and in state of Punjab is celebrated as Lohri & Maghi. Gujarati's not only look reverentially up to the sun, but also offer thousands of their colorful oblations in the form of beautiful kites all over the skyline. They may be trying to reach upto their glorious God or bring about greater proximity with the one who represents the best. It is a day for which Bhishma Pitamah kept waiting, during the Mahabharat period to leave his mortal coil.
Astrological Significance:Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti is transition. There is a sankranti every month when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. There are twelve signs of the zodiac, and thus there are twelve sankranti's as well. Each of these sankranti's has its own relative importance but two of these are more important - the Mesh(Aries) Sankranti and the most important, the Makar(Capricorn) Sankranti. Transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn, during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is known as Makar Sankranti. From this day begins the six-month long Uttarayan, considered very auspicious for attaining higher worlds hereafter.
While the traditional Hindu Calendar is basically based on lunar positions, but sankranti is a solar event, so the date should have been 21 or 22 December since the current date of the winter solstice is in transition between the 21st and 22nd of December. We all know that the dates of all Hindu festivals keep changing since most of the Hindus follow Lunar calendar. But Makar Sankranti is a Solar Solistice event, and should have been celebrated on 22 December.
So how or why is Makar Sankranti celebrated on 14th January?
The Indian winter solstice was traditionally been celebrated as Sankranti, though somewhere down the centuries a calculation of the precession of the equinoxes, which moves the date of the solstice backwards was not taken into account and hence it is still celebrated on 14th of January every year. But this day is still called as Uttarayan, which means "Northern journey", and marks the beginning of the sun's ascent. This proves that Makar Sankranti was been observed and celebrated on 14 January for over 30,000 years by the Hindus, who still follow traditions of the Sanatan Dharm, the Eternal Law.
This festival is celebrated differently in different parts of the India.
In Uttar Pradesh, Sankrant is called ‘Khichiri’. Taking a dip in the holy rivers on this day is regarded as most auspicious. A big one-month long ‘Magha-Mela’ fair begins at Prayag (Allahabad) on this occasion. Apart from Triveni, ritual bathing also takes place at many places like Haridvar and Garh Mukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna in Bihar.
In Bengal every year a very big Mela is held at Ganga Sagar This mela is attended by a large number of pilgrims from all over the country.
In Tamil Nadu Sankrant is known by the name of ‘Pongal’, which takes its name from the surging of rice boiled in a pot of milk, and this festival has more significance than even Diwali. It is very popular particularly amongst farmers. Rice and pulses cooked together in ghee and milk is offered to the family deity after the ritual worship. In essence in the South this Sankrant is a ‘Puja’ (worship) for the Sun God.
In Andhra Pradesh, it is celebrated as a three-day harvest festival Pongal. It is a big event for the people of Andhra Pradesh. The Telugus like to call it 'Pedda Panduga' meaning big festival. The whole event lasts for four days, the first day Bhogi, the second day Sankranti, the third day Kanuma and the fourth day, Mukkanuma.
In Maharashtra on the Sankranti day people exchange multi-colored tilguds made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. Til-polis are offered for lunch. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying – ‘til-gul ghya, god god bola’ meaning ‘accept these tilguls and speak sweet words’. The under-lying thought in the exchange of tilguls is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends.
This is a special day for the women in Maharashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called ‘Haldi-Kumkum’ and given gifts of any utensil, which the woman of the house purchases on that day.
In Gujarat Sankrant is observed more or less in the same manner as in Maharashtra but with a difference that in Gujarat there is a custom of giving gifts to relatives. The elders in the family give gifts to the younger members of the family. The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy. This festival thus helps the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste and community.
Kite flying has been associated with this festival in a big way. It has become an internationally well-known event.
In Punjab where December and January are the coldest months of the year, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankrant and which is celebrated as "LOHARI". Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together. The following day, which is Sankrant, is celebrated as MAGHI. The Punjabi's dance their famous Bhangra dance till they get exhausted. Then they sit down and eat the sumptuous food that is specially prepared for the occasion.
The 40 days anushthana by the devotees of Ayyappa ends on this day in Sabarimala with a big festival.
In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh this festival of Sankrant is known by the name ‘Sakarat’ and is celebrated with great pomp & merriment accompanied by lot of sweets.
Tribals of Orissa:
Many tribals in our country start their New Year from the day of Sankrant by lighting bonfires, dancing and eating their particular dishes sitting together. The Bhuya tribals of Orissa have their Maghyatra in which small home-made articles are put for sale.
In Assam, the festival is celebrated as Bhogali Bihu.
In the coastal regions, it is a harvest festival dedicated to Indra.
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