Makara Sankranti is one of the few ancient Indian festivals that have been observed according to solar cycles, while most festivals are set by the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar. Being a festival that celebrates the solar cycle, it almost always falls on the same date every year (January 14), except in some years when the date shifts by a day for that year.
The festivities associated with Makar Sankranti are known by various names, such as Maghi (preceded by Lohri) by north Indian Hindus and Sikhs, Makara Sankranti (Pedda Pandaga) in Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal (also called Poush sôngkrānti), Karnataka and Telangana, Sukarat in central India, Magh Bihu by Assamese, and Thai Pongal by Tamils.
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Makara Sankranti is observed with social festivities such as colourful decorations, rural children going house to house, singing and asking for treats in some areas (or pocket money), melas (fairs), dances, kite flying, bonfires and feasts.
This festival is dedicated to the Hindu religious sun god Surya. This significance of Surya is traceable to the Vedic texts, particularly the Gayatri Mantra, a sacred hymn of Hinduism found in its scripture named the Rig-Veda. The festival also marks the beginning of a six-month auspicious period for Hindus known as Uttarayana.
Makara Sankranti is regarded as important for spiritual practices and accordingly, people take a holy dip in rivers, especially Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri. The bathing is believed to result in the merit or absolution of past sins. They also pray to the sun and thank for their successes and prosperity. Shared cultural practices found amongst Hindus of various parts of India is making sticky,
bound sweets particularly from sesame (til) and a sugar base such as jaggery (gud, gur). This type of sweet is a symbolism for being together in peace and joyfulness, despite the uniqueness and differences between individuals.
For most parts of India, this period is a part of the early stages of the Rabi crop and agricultural cycle, where crops have been sown and the hard work in the fields is mostly over. The time thus signifies a period of socializing and families enjoying each other’s company, taking care of the cattle, and celebrating around bonfires, in Maharashtra the festival is celebrated by flying kites.
Makara Sankranti is an important pan-Indian solar festival, known by different names though observed on the same date, sometimes for multiple dates around the Makar Sankranti. It is known as Pedda Panduga in Andhra Pradesh, Makara Sankranti in Karnataka and Maharashtra, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Magh Bihu in Assam, Magha Mela in parts of central and north India, as Makar Sankranti in the west, and by other names. In some parts of India it is believed that a demon was killed in that day.