Hindu Festival: Makar Sankranti
On the 14th of January (Magh) every year, there is a festival called Makar Sankranti to celebrate the entry of the sun into the sign of Makar or Capricorn, which is a lucky period of the year. It is celebrated at the commencement of the sun's northern course (Uttarayan)the heavens. This is a kind of New Year day festival marking the termination of the inauspicious month Paush (December) and the completion of the solar year (Saur Varsh).
Saur Varsh (solar year) is the period during which the earth completes one circle of the sun. This going in circular form round the sun is known as Kranti Chakr (zodiac). Dividing this into twelve makes twelve rashis (signs of zodiac). These have been named according to twelve constellations. The movement of one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti. Earth in northern direction (Uttarayan) is called Makar Sankranti and in southern as Kark-Sankranti(Dakshinayn).
The movement of the sun from the northern tip to the southern tip during Shravan to Posh (July-December) is Dakshinayn and from Magh to Aasadd (January-June) from southern tip to northern tip is called Uttarayan. The days are longer during uttarayan and are brighter. The opposite happens during dakshinayn. According to Hindu scriptures, uttarayan period is gods' day and dakshinayn, their night. Thus makar sankranti is the morning of the gods. On makar sankranti day to receive the offerings, the gods and deities come to earth. On this day sacred souled religious people enter samadhis and give up life to achieve salvation and attain swarga (heaven). Therefore, this day is auspicious as the day of enlightenment. This day is considered as of great importance and auspicious for charity, worship and religious ceremonies. It is said that the charity and alms given on this day have a hundred fold benefits. The fast bath, purification and worship on this day are considered very auspicious.
At this festival, devout Hindus, having fast for the day, bath; massage their bodies with ground nut oil and present pots full of nuts to the Brahmins. They also celebrate the occasion by wearing new clothes and distribute sweets.
This festival is celebrated as Lohdi, one day prior to Makar Sankranti, in northern states of Punjab, Himachal, Haryana; People sit around the camp fire, put til, maize, etc. into the fire, sing, dance and enjoy.
This festival is celebrated in all parts of India, however in different names. Getting rid of the severe cold season is worshipful in the festival. The use of Til (sesames), eating its sweets (Reori, Gajak) and distribution of Til are considered auspicious, which gives nutritional protection against effects of cold. Til in jaggery is relished by the people and shopkeepers make gains. The day opens with giving of alms. Kite flying is a specialty of the day for the youngsters. Distribution of blankets and pure ghee, in charity, is recognized as more beneficial.
A celebrated religious fair takes place at this time in sacred place Parayaga (Allahabad) where the Yamuna and Ganga meet. This festival is called Khiedi in Uttar Pradesh. Til (sesames) preparations are consumed and distributed.
Brahmkund, where Brahmaputra river forms a lake in Arunachal Pradesh, near the border towards China and Burma, becomes a pilgrim centre on Makar Sankranti day.
Lepcha/Bhutia New Year's Day is celebrated during Makar Sankranti in Darjeeling (West Bengal) area, where colourful fairs are held along the Teesta River.
In Bengal, it may be called the festival of good cheer. Practically it is kept by free indulgence in the eating of cakes, sweetmeats and other good things. There is also a custom of distributing til.
In the South, this festival is called Pongal. The festival marks the reaping of harvest.
In ancient Rome, there was the custom of distributing figs, date palms and honey, on this day.
In Greece, the parents of the younger generation distributed til, for the increase in progeny, on this day.