It is observed each year the day Sun enters the Capricorn zodiac which corresponds with the month of January as per the Gregorian calendar. It marks the first day of the sun’s transit into Makara rashi (Capricorn), marking the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days.
Makar Sankranti is one of the few ancient Indian festivals that has 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 Gregorian date every year (January 14), except in some years when the date shifts by a day for that year (January 15). As a result, it can fall on different date of the Hindu calendar each year.
The festivities associated with Makar Sankranti are known by various names.
The festival is Sukarat in central India, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
It’s Ghughuti in Uttarakhand, Makara Sankranti in Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa.
In West Bengal it’s known as Poush Sankranti). Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh it’s called Khichidi Sankranti),
It’s Sankranthi in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Maghe Sankrat (Nepal) and Shishur Sankrat in Kashmir.
Makar Sankranti is observed with social festivities such as colorful decorations, rural children going house to house, singing and asking for treats in some areas, Melas (fairs), dances, kite flying, bonfires and feasts.
People on this auspicious day go to sacred rivers or lakes and bathe in a ceremony of thanks to the Sun God.
Every twelve years, the Hindus observe Makar Sankranti with Kumbha Mela – one of the world’s largest mass pilgrimage, with an estimated 40 to 100 million people attending the event.
At this event, they say a prayer to the sun and bathe at the Prayaga confluence of the River Ganga and River Yamuna, a tradition attributed to Adi Shankaracharya.
Makara Sankranti is set by the solar cycle of the Hindu Lunisolar Calendar, and is observed on a day which usually falls on 14 January of the Gregorian calendar, but sometimes on 15 January. It signifies the arrival of longer days.
It marks the end of the month with Winter Solstice for India and the longest night of the year, a month that is called Pausha in the lunar calendar and Dhanu in the solar calendar in the Vikrami system. The festival celebrates the first month with consistently longer days.
There are two different systems to calculate the Makara Sankranti date: Nirayana (without adjusting for precession of equinoxes, sidereal) and Sayana (with adjustment, tropical).
The January 14 date is based on the nirayana system, while the Sayana system typically computes to about December 23, per most Siddhanta texts for Hindu calendars. Adjustments to the calendar over the years causes the festival date to occur on January 14 or 15th.
Significance of Makar Sankranti
Every year Makar Sankranti is celebrated in the month of January to mark the winter solstice. 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 Rigveda.
The bathing is believed to result in merit or absolution of past sins. They also pray to the sun and thank for their successes and prosperity.
A 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 joy, despite all differences between individuals.
For most parts of India, this period is a part of 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 and Telangana, 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, Maghara Valaku in Kerala, and by other names.
A night lit up on Makar Sankranti Uttarayana Festival with Kites and Lights.
Makara or Makar Sankranti is celebrated in many parts of the Indian subcontinent with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different Indian states and South Asian countries:
- Suggi Habba, Makara Sankramana, Makara Sankranti : Karnataka
- Makar Sankranti, Uttarayan or Ghughuti: Uttarakhand
- Sankranti, Makara Sankranti, Makara Sankramana, Uttarayana or Sankranti : Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh
- Makara Sankranti or Makara Mela and Makara Chaula : Odisha
- Makara Sankranti or Makaravilakku and Makara Jyothi : Kerala
- Makara Sankranti or Til Sankrant : Bihar
- Makar Sankranti, Maghi Sankrant, Haldi Kumkum or Sankranti : Maharashtra, Goa, Nepal
- Hangrai : Tripura
- Thai Pongal or Uzhavar Thirunal: Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia
- Uttarayan: Gujarat
- Maghi: Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab
- Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu: Assam
- Shishur Saenkraat: Kashmir Valley
- Sakraat or Khichdi: Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar
- Poush Sangkranti: West Bengal, Bangladesh
- Tila Sakrait: Mithila
In most regions of India, Sankranti festivities last for two to four days of which each day is celebrated with distinct names and rituals.
- Day 1 – Maghi (preceded by Lohri), Bhogi Panduga
- Day 2 – Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Pedda Panduga, Uttarayana, Magh Bihu
- Day 3 – Mattu Pongal, Kanuma Panduga
- Day 4 – Kaanum Pongal, Mukkanuma
How Sankaranti is celebrated in different regions :
It is celebrated with pomp in southern parts of India as Sankranti in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka (Pongal in Tamil Nadu), and in Punjab as Maghi. Kite flying is a tradition of Makar Sankranti in many parts of India.
The Magha Mela (or mini-Kumbh Mela held annually at Prayag) and the Gangasagar Mela (held at the head of the Ganges River, where it flows into the Bay of Bengal). Makar Mela in Odisha.
Tusu Mela also called as Tusu Porab is celebrated in many parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal. Poush Mela, held traditionally on the 7th day of Poush,at Shantiniketan, in West Bengal, is unrelated to this festival.
Mela Maghi is held in memory of the forty Sikh martyrs (Chalis Mukte) who gave their lives to protect Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of Sikhism, every year at Muktsar Sahib in Punjab. Before this tradition, the festival was observed and mentioned by Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of Sikhism.
This is the Suggi or harvest festival for farmers of Karnataka. On this auspicious day, girls wear new clothes to visit near and dear ones with a Sankranti offering in a plate and exchange the same with other families.
This ritual is called Ellu Birodhu. Here the plate would normally contain Ellu (white sesame seeds) mixed with fried groundnuts, neatly cut dry coconut and fine cut Bella pieces (jaggery). The mixture is called Ellu-Bella. The plate contains shaped sugar candy moulds (Sakkare Acchu, ) with a piece of sugarcane.
There is a saying in Kannada “Ellu Bella Thindu Olle Maathadi” meaning ‘eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good.’
This festival signifies the harvest season since sugarcane is predominant in these parts during this time.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
The festival Sankranti is celebrated for four days in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
- Day 1 – Bhogi
- Day 2 – Sankranti, the main festival day
- Day 3 – Kanuma
- Day 4 – Mukkanuma
Multicolored sugar halwa surrounded by til-gul (sesame and jaggery) ladoos. These exchanged and eaten on Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra
In Maharashtra on Makar Sankranti day people exchange multicoloured halwa (sugar granules coated in sugar syrup) and Til-Gul Laadoo (sweetmeats made from sesame seeds and jaggery).
Gulachi Poli/Puran poli(flat bread stuffed with soft/shredded jaggery mixed with toasted, ground til [white sesame seeds]) and some gram flour, which has been toasted to golden in pure ghee, are offered for lunch.
While exchanging Til-Gul as tokens of goodwill people greet each other.
Married women invite friends/family members and celebrate Haldi-Kunku. Guests are given til-gul and some small gift, as a part of the ritual. Women make it a point to wear black clothes.
As Sakranti falls in the winter months of the region, wearing black adds to the body warmth. This is an essential reason behind wearing black, which is otherwise barred on festival days.
As per another legend, Lord Surya forgave his son Shani and his son visited him on Sankranti. And that’s why people distribute everyone sweets and urge them to let go of any negative or angry feelings.
While distributing sweets famous line ‘Til gul ghya aani god god bola’ ( meaning eat this sesame and jaggery and speak sweet words) is used in Maharashtra.
A Buffalo fight held at Ranthali, in Nagaon District of Assam, on the occasion of Magh bihu.
Magh Bihu (also called Bhogali Bihu (Bihu of eating foods and enjoyment) or Maghar Domahi is a harvest festival celebrated in Assam, which marks the end of harvesting season in the month of Maagha (January–February). It is the Assam celebration of Makar Sankranti, with feasting lasting for a week.
The festival is marked by feasts and bonfires. Young people erect makeshift huts, known as Meji and Bhelaghar from bamboo, leaves and thatch. In Bhelaghar they eat the food prepared for the feast, and then burn the huts the next morning.
The celebrations also feature traditional Assamese games such as tekeli bhonga (pot-breaking) and buffalo fighting. Magh Bihu celebrations start on the last day of the previous month, the month of “Pooh”, usually the 29th of Pooh and usually the 14th of January, and is the only day of Magh Bihu in modern times (earlier, the festival would last for the whole month of Magh, and so the name Magh Bihu). The night before is “Uruka” (28th of Pooh), when people gather around a bonfire, cook dinner, and make merry.
During Magh Bihu people of Assam make cakes of rice with various names such as Shunga Pitha, Til Pitha etc. and some other sweets of coconut called Laru or Laskara.A traditional sweet sesame-jaggery based Ladoo exchanged and eaten on Makar Sankranti.
Known as Sankrant in Goa like in the rest of the country, people distribute sweets in the form of granules of sugar-coated till pulses among family members and friends.
Newly married women offer five Sunghat or small clay pots with black beaded threads tied around them, to the deity. These pots are filled with newly harvested food grains and are offered with betel leaves and areca nut.
Main article: International Kite Festival in Gujarat – Uttarayan
Uttarayan, as Makar Sankranti is called in Gujarati, is a major festival in the state of Gujarat which lasts for two days.
- 14 January is Uttarayan
- 15 January is Vasi-Uttarayan (Stale Uttarayan).
Gujarati people keenly await this festival to fly kites, called ‘Patang’. Kites for Uttarayan are made of special light-weight paper and bamboo and are mostly rhombus shaped with central spine and a single bow. The string often contains abrasives to cut down other people’s kites.
In Gujarat, throughtout the month of December till the day of Makar Sankranti people start enjoying Uttarayan.
Undhiyu (spicy, baked mix of winter vegetables) and Chikkis (made from sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery) are the special festival recipes savoured on this day.
The Hindu Sindhi community in western regions of India, that is also found in southeastern parts of Pakistan, celebrate Makar Sankranti as Tirmoori. On this day, parents sending sweet dishes to their daughters.
Haryana and Delhi
Sakraant in Haryana and Delhi rural areas, is celebrated with traditional Hindu rituals of North India similar to Western UP and border areas of Rajasthan and Punjab.
This includes ritual purification by taking the holy dip in rivers, especially in Yamuna, or at sacred ponds such as ancient Sarovars Kurukshetra and at local Tirtha ponds associated with the ancestral guardian /founder deity of the village called Jathera or Dhok (dahak in Sanskrit or fire) in villages to wash away sins.
People prepare Kheer, Churma, Halva with Desi Ghee and distribute Til-Gud (sesame and jaggery) Laddoos or Chikkis. Brothers of married woman visits her home with a gift pack, called “Sindhara” or “Sidha”, of wood and warm clothing for her and her husband’s family.
Women give gift to their in-laws called Manana. Women conggregate in the nearby Havelis to sing Haryani folk songs and exchange gifts.
In Jammu, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as ‘Uttrain’ (derived from Sanskrit: Uttarayana). Alternatively, terms ‘Attrain’ or ‘Attrani’ have also been used to describe this festival. A day before Lohri is celebrated by Dogras to commemorate end of the month of Poh (Hindu Pausha month ). It is also the beginning the Magha month as per Hindu Solar Calendar. Therefore the sacred day is also known as ‘Maghi Sangrand’ (Meaning Sankranti of Magh month).
There is also a tradition of sending Khichdi & other food items to house of married daughters.
Fairs are organised on holy places and pligrimages on this day. Dhagwal in Hiranagar tehsil is known for Fair on Makar Sankranti and Janamashtami.
People of Jammu also take holy bath in Devika river and pilgrimages like Uttar Behni and Purmandal on this occasion. This day is also celebrated as birth anniversary of Baba Ambo ji, a local deity of Jammu region.
The festival is known as Makara Sankranti in Odisha where people prepare Makara Chaula – uncooked newly harvested rice – banana, coconut, jaggery, sesame, Rasagola, Khai/Liaa and Chhena puddings for Naivedya to gods and goddesses.
The withdrawing winter entails a change in food habits and intake of nourishing and rich food. Therefore, this festival holds traditional cultural significance.
It is astronomically important for devotees who worship the Sun god at the great Konark temple with fervour and enthusiasm as the sun starts its annual swing northwards.
The Sun’s movement changes and the days from this day onwards become lengthier and warmer. Therefore the Sun-God is worshiped on this day as a great benefactor. Many individuals at the start of the day take a ritual bath while fasting.
In Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Kalahandi, Koraput and Sundargarh where the tribal population is greater, the festival is celebrated with great joy. They celebrate this festival with great enthusiasm, singing, dancing, having an enjoyable time.
This Makara Sankranti celebration is next to the Odia traditional new year Maha Vishuva Sankranti which falls in mid April. Tribal groups celebrate this festival with their traditional dance, eating their special festival dishes sitting together, lighting bonfires.
Main article: MaghiMela
In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Maghi which is a religious and a cultural festival. Bathing in a river in the early hours on Maghi is important. Hindus light lamps with sesame oil as this is supposed to give prosperity and drive away all sins.
A major mela is held at Sri Muktsar Sahib on Maghi which commemorates a historical event in Sikh history.
Culturally, people dance their famous Bhangra folk dance. They then sit down and eat the sumptuous food that is specially prepared for the occasion. It is traditional to eat Kheer – rice cooked in milk – and sugarcane juice. It is also traditional to consume Khichdi and jaggery.
December and January are the coldest months of the year in the Punjab. Maghi represents the change of the season to warmer temperatures and increase in daylight. Maghi fairs are held in many places.
Rajasthan and Western Madhya Pradesh (Malwa & Nimar)
Makar Sankrati or ‘Sakraat’ in the Rajasthani language is one of the major festivals in the state of Rajasthan. The day is celebrated with special Rajasthani delicacies and sweets such as Pheeni (either with sweet milk or sugar syrup dipped), Til-Paati, Gajak, Kheer, Ghevar, Pakodi, Puwa, and Til-Laddoo.
Specially, the women of this region observe a ritual in which they give any type of object (related to household, make-up or food) to 13 married women.
The first Sankranti experienced by a married woman is of significance as she is invited by her parents and brothers to their houses with her husband for a big feast.
People invite friends and relatives (specially their sisters and daughters) to their home for special festival meals known as ‘Sankrant Bhoj’. People give out many kind of small gifts such as Til-Gud (jaggery), fruits, dry khichadi, etc. to Brahmins or the needy ones.
Kite flying is traditionally observed as a part of this festival. On this occasion the sky in Jaipur and Hadoti regions is filled with kites, and youngsters engage in contests trying to cut each other’s strings.
Main article: Thai PongalThe Tamil festival of Pongal coincides with Makar Sankranti, and celebrates Surya.
It is a four-day festival in Tamil Nadu:
The festival is celebrated four days from the last day of the Tamil month Margazhi to the third day of the Tamil month Thai. Bhogi
The first day of festival is Bhogi. It is celebrated on the last day of the month of Margazhi by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials, by setting them on fire, marking the end of the old and the emergence of the new.
In villages they have a simple ceremony of ‘Kappu Kattu’ (Kappu means secure). The ‘neem’ leaves are kept along the walls and roof of the houses. This is to eliminate evil forces.
The second day of festival is Thai Pongal or simply Pongal. It is the main day of the festival, falling on the first day of the Tamil month Thai which starts with the solar cycle when sun starts moving towards the summer solstice (Uttarayana).
It is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots, which are later topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel.
This tradition gives Pongal its name. The moment the rice boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to joint together and shout ‘Ponggalo Ponggal’ and blow the Sangu (a conch) – a custom practised to announce it was going to be a year blessed with good tidings.
Then, new boiled rice is offered to the Sun god during sunrise, as a prayer which symbolises thanks to the Sun for providing prosperity. The Pongal is later served to the people in the house for the ceremony.
People prepare savouries and sweets such as Vadai, Murukku, Payasam and visit each other and exchange greetings.
The third day of festival is Maattu Pongal. It is for offering thanks to cattle, as they help farmers in agriculture. On this day the cattle are decorated with paint, flowers and bells. They are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane.
Some people decorate the horns of the cattle with gold or other metallic covers. In some places, Jallikattu, or taming of the wild bull contest, is the main event of the day which is mostly seen in villages.
The fourth day of the festival is Kaanum Pongal. The word Kaanum means to view. During this day people visit their relatives, friends to enjoy the festive season. It is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest.
It started as a farmers festival, called as Uzhavar Thirunaal in Tamil. Kolam decorations are made in front of the house during Thai Pongal festival.
The Kumbh Mela, now renamed as Maha Kumbh Mela by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (the Ardh Kumbh Mela now being renamed as Kumbh Mela) at Prayaga Sangam, the world’s largest pilgrimage gathering every 12 years, is a Makar Sankranti related sacred event.
The festival is known as Kicheri in Uttar Pradesh and involves ritual bathing. Millions of people gather at their respective sacred places for the holy bath in places like Allahabad and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Haridwar in Uttarakhand.
Makar Sankranti is a popular festival in Uttarakhand. It known by various names in different parts of the state such as Uttarayani, Khichri Sangrand, Pusyodia, Ghughutia, Ghughuti Tyar, Kale Kauva, Makrain, Makraini, Gholda, Gwalda and Chunyatyar.
In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, Makar Sankranti – also known as Ghughuti or Ghughuti Tyar or Ghughutia or Kale Kauva or Uttarayani – is celebrated with great gusto.
The famous Uttarayani Mela (fair) is held in Bageshwar town each year in the month of January on the occasion of Makar Sankrati. According to the Almora Gazetteer, even in the early twentieth century, the annual Uttarayani Mela at Bageshwar was visited by approximately 15,000 people and was the largest fair of Kumaon division.
Those who are very religious, continue this practice for three days in succession, known as Trimaghi. On this day, people also give ‘Khichdi’ (a dish made by mixing pulses and rice) in charity, take ceremonial dips in holy rivers.
The participate in Uttarayani fairs and offer deep fried sweetmeats consisting of flour and jaggery to crows and other birds as a way to pay homage to the departed souls of their ancestors.
In West Bengal, Sankranti, also known as Poush Sankranti named after the Bengali month in which it falls (last date of that month), is celebrated as a harvest festival Poush Parbon.
The freshly harvested paddy and the date palm syrup in the form of Khejurer Gur and Patali is used in the preparation of a variety of traditional Bengali sweets made with rice flour, coconut, milk and ‘khejurer gur’ (date palm jaggery) and known as ‘Pitha‘.
All sections of society participate in a three-day festival that begins on the day before Sankranti and ends on the day after. The Goddess Lakshmi is usually worshipped on the day of Sankranti.
In the Himalayan regions of Darjeeling, the festival is as known as Magey Sakrati. It is distinctly associated with the worship of Lord Shiva.
Traditionally, people bathe at sunrise and then commence their Pooja. Many people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar (the point where the river Ganges meets the sea Bay of Bengal).