A sharp ray of warm sunlight cuts through the darkness, ending the dominion of long, cold, wintery nights. Somewhere in between cool breezes and the rising sun, nature strikes a perfect balance as the sun begins its northward journey and transits into the zodiac of the Capricorn, hence giving it the name ‘Makara Sankranti’. It is this day we celebrate to signify the end of the winter solstice and welcome longer days. To be fair to the other zodiacs, a Sankranti marks the transmigration of the sun from one Rashi to another, and so we end up with 12 Sankrantis in a year.
Being a pan-Indian festival, its name varies with geography. Fondly known as Lohri by North Indians and Sikhs, Sukarat in mid-India, Bhogali Bihu by Assamese Indians, and Pongal by South Indians, it is unlike most other Indian festivals as it is observed according to solar cycles, while most others are set by lunar or lunisolar Hindu calendars. An elaborate set of rituals accompany this festival, which include decorating the houses colorfully, aesthetic Rangolis, conducting fairs and fests, flying kites, and of course, the man who brings a cow to each house chanting hymns. On this day, it is also considered auspicious to bathe in holy rivers, which is believed to result in the absolution of past sins and in the purification of the soul. As a matter of fact, every 12 years, Indians observe Makara Sankranti with one of the world’s largest pilgrimage, with 40 to 100 million people attending the event.
With thanksgiving to the Sun, people pray for their success and prosperity throughout the year. Also known as the harvest festival, farmers celebrate a night of merry making and often get a little tipsy (can’t blame them). The festival itself takes place over four days, each day signifying something unique. The first day, Bhogi, is the day of renewal, where people cast aside all old and decrepit things and bring in new and fresh things, simply to symbolize the eradication of negativity and to welcome positive vibes. The second day is Sankranti, where people wear new clothes, pray a little more, feast on delicacies, and give away to charity. The third and fourth day, Kanuma and Mukkanuma call for the gathering of friends and family to celebrate togetherness by flying kites. It is also on this day that Haridasu, literally meaning ‘servant of Hari’ (the man with the cow) goes around singing songs of lord Vishnu.
And although these traditions alter, and it is celebrated differently in different parts of the country, at heart, it spells the union of people and the arrival of spring. The emotions brought along will never differ and that’s why it is a day to celebrate. As this year comes to an end, it’s time to look back and give thanks for the things you are grateful for, and reflect on those you regret. Here’s to one successful year, and hoping for another. Happy Sankranti.