Makar Sankranti is an auspicious solar day. It is celebrated each year in January. As per our Sanatan Hindu culture, this event leads to the beginning of an auspicious phase marking the arrival of spring. In today’s article I’ll try to explain the significance of Makar Sankranti.
Hindu scriptures contain a vast wealth of astronomical data. As per the data Hindu calendar was founded in the ancient times, and it has gone through number of changes through ages. It is known as Panchang, which is based on both the sun and the moon. This calendar covers everything from phases of the moon, the position of the stars and planets, and identifies auspicious times and days for various activities, rituals and festivals.
Makar Sankranti or Sakrain, one of the most significant Sanatan Hindu festivals, also falls on an auspicious solar day identified and observed according to Hindu or Vedic astronomical knowledge. The name, Makar Sankranti derives from two words – Makar and Sankranti. Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti means the end of a month when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. From this day in the Tropic of Capricorn, Makar Sankramana as it is called, the Sun moves from South to North, and so this summer solstice day is celebrated as an auspicious festival. This northward journey of the Sun is also known as Uttarayana. So, this is a festival day in the Hindu calendar dedicated to the deity Surya or Sun god.
There is also a symbolic meaning to Makar Sankranti. Makar means crocodile and Sankranti means to cross into or change. The Makar or crocodile represents the materialistic world and Sankranti gives an opportunity to get away from the clutches of the crocodile or the materialistic world. The six-month long Uttarayana begins on the Makar Sankranti day. From this day, the harshness of winter subsidizes and the days get longer. Symbolically, the Sun slowly removes darkness and ushers in the light of knowledge. Uttarayana is also the daytime of the Devas (Gods) and from this day the doors of Heaven are opened. So, the auspicious Dakshinayana symbolizes as the night of god or the sign of negativity and Uttarayana is considered as a symbol of day of Gods or a sign of positivity. Since on this day the Sun starts its journey towards the north so, people take a holy dip in Ganga, Godavari, Krishna, Yamuna rivers at holy places, chant mantras etc. Normally, the Sun affects all the zodiac signs, but it is said that the entry of the Sun in the zodiac sign of Cancer and Capricorn religiously is very significant. Before Makar Sankranti, the Sun is in the southern hemisphere. For this reason, in Indian sub-continent, in winter, nights are longer and days are smaller. But with the Makar Sankranti, the Sun starts its journey towards northern hemisphere and so, days will be longer.
There are numerous legends and myths which add to the significance of Makar Sankranti. It is believed that Sun god visits his son, Shani on this day. One of the most important myths is the death of Bhishma in the Mahabharata. Bhishma had got a boon from his father that he would depart from this earth only when he wished and he chose the period of Uttarayana for his departure. It is believed that people who pass away during Uttarayana merges with Brhman, thus ending the cycle of rebirth. Legend also has it that Lord Vishnu buried Asuras (Demons) on this day beneath the Mandara Mountain. It signifies the end of evil and the dawn of righteousness. There is another religious story regarding Makar Sankranti which states that Mother Yashoda kept fast to have Lord Krishna as her son. The story of Gangawatran is also linked with Makar Sankranti. It is said that on the day of Makar Sankranti, Sage Bhagirath liberated his ancestors from curse and brought Ganga to earth, thus providing moksha to 60,000 sons of King Sagar. Ganga followed Bhagirath and met the ocean. Conjunction of Ganga and ocean is the reason behind crowd of devotees taking bath in Gangasagar on Makar Sankranti.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated across the world in different ways and the cultural significance of the festival varies geographically as we move from one region to another, with every place celebrating and welcoming the new season of harvest in their indigenous manner. Makar Sankranti, also known as Poush Sankranti in Bengal, is an annual celebration in the sub-continent. In some areas it is observed with religious fervour. The devotees take holy dip in the nearest rivers and worship the Sun god with different offerings. Sagar Mela, also known as Ganga Sagar Yatra or Ganga Snan is an annual gathering of pilgrims to take holy dip in the river Ganga during Makar Sankranti. It is the second most popular mela (fair) after Kumbh Mela in India. The hermitage of Sage Kapil attracts a lot of devotees on this auspicious day. In some places of Bangladesh, it is commonly known as Sakrain. In and around Old Dhaka, Sakrain is widely celebrated; colourful kites are flown high from rooftops and as the night falls fireworks light up the sky. In recent times, fire-spinners and flame- eaters also congregate on rooftops to entertain people with their skills. Though the delightful celebration is called by various names, as far as food is concerned, the ingredients and preparations have innumerable similarities. Womenfolk in Bengal prepare delicious pithas; the tradition also includes exchange of dishes and greetings. Folk fairs are also seen to be arranged in some places.
From the above discussion we can easily realize the significance of Makar Sankranti to the Sanatan Hindu devotees. It makes the soul of a devotee pure and free from all earthly sins. So, we should celebrate this auspicious solar day with religious fervour each year.