Makara Sankranti: Indian Thanksgiving

lohri-festival

Lohri, the Punjabi festival, is celebrated on January 13, the day before Makara Sankranti. The major highlight of the festival is the bonfire which is said to represent the Sun God.

Makara Sankranti is an auspicious day for Hindus. It is celebrated on January 14 or 15. This year it is celebrated on the 15th. Makara Sankranti is the day when winter ends and spring begins in this part of the world. Winter has negative connotations whereas spring is associated with fresh beginnings. Likewise, Makara Sankranti represents a transition from the bad events and experiences of the previous season to the fresh beginnings of a new season.

Makara Sankranti is celebrated all over India. In many parts of the country, people engage in kite-flying on this day. When this tradition started, people used to fly kites in the early hours of the day when the sun’s rays were not harsh. This was a healthy pastime with religious significance. Modern science has proved that exposing our body to the rays of the morning sun is beneficial. That means flying kites in the early morning is a healthy way to start a new season.

In Nepal, there is a belief that when people fly kites they are guiding recently released souls to heaven. Kites are believed to have spiritual connection with gods.

Makara Sankranti is celebrated with great fervor all over India. Like most other religious festivals, Makara Sankranti is also celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country. In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as Pongal whereas in Punjab it is Lohri.

While the rituals and celebrations associated with Makara Sankranti are different, they are all different ways of expressing our gratitude towards the Sun God.

The Sun is a powerful symbol for Hindus. He is the one who sustains life on earth. Makara Sankranti is essentially a festival dedicated to Sun God. It marks the beginning of Uttarayana – the time when Sun moves to the tropic of capricorn. This transition also lends some warmth to mother earth. In spring the seeds that were lying dormant thus far begin to sprout with the help of Sun’s energy. Since Sun helps generate the life-sustaining produce, he is worshipped with great devotion.

Makara Sankranti, therefore, is a celebration of the bounteous Sun who sustains life on earth with his benevolent rays. By worshipping him, we can obtain health, prosperity and peace.

How is Makara Sankranti celebrated?

Makara Sankranti is celebrated as Lohri in Punjab, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Magha Bihu in Assam, Samkranti in Bengal and Sankranti in other parts of the country.

In Tamil Nadu, Makara Sankranti celebrations last three days. The first day is Bhogi. It is followed by Pongal which is celebrated on Makara Sankranti. On Pongal rice and lentils are cooked with ghee, sugar and jaggery. The pot is allowed to boil over because it symbolizes prosperity. People wear new clothes and offer prayers to Lord Surya (Sun). On Maatu Pongal, the third day of the festival, cows are worshipped.

In Punjab, Makara Sankranti marks the beginning of the New Year. Here the celebration lasts two days. Punjabis believe that propitiating the Sun God is the best possible way to start a new year.

Lohri is celebrated on the day before Makara Sankranti. Bonfires are made. They are believed to be the replicas of the Sun. Revelers will circle the bonfire and make offerings of gingelly, peanuts and beaten rice to the burning embers. Makara Sankranti is celebrated as Maghi.

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