Culture

Why do we celebrate Makara Sankranti, Lohri, Pongal festivals??

Two shlokas of the many shlokas in the Aditya Hridaya Stotram, a hymn to the Sun God are:

Sarvamaṅgalamāṅgalyaṃ sarvapāpapraṇāśanam

cintāśokapraśamanam āyurvardhanamuttamam

 (The Sun God is the giver of all auspiciousness, destroys all sins, worries and increases the longevity of life).

Tamoghnāya himaghnāya śatrughnāyāmitātmane

kṛtaghnaghnāya devāya jyotiṣāṃ pataye namaḥ

 (Salutations to the dispeller of the darkness (Tamas – ignorance) and cold (Hima – snow), who is fearful to enemies, Salutations also to the annihilator of the ungrateful and to the Lord of all the stellar bodies, who is the first amongst all the lights of the Universe).

Surya Devata or the Sun is the Pratyaksha Devata – He is the only Visible God. He is the remover of the darkness and  ignorance and lets knowledge and light dawn on us. He is the giver of health and warmth. He is the creator of seasons and the stability of the earth is dependant on Him. Crops, fruits and vegetable owe their bountiful nature to Him.

Little wonder then that the Makar Sankranti is one of the biggest festivals in India and it is celebrated in each and every corner of India. While most Yagnas (Homa) need priests, the Yagna during Lohri (Bhogi in the South) and Holi do not need any other medium. Every person can give his offering in the fire burnt during Lohri, whether it is the new grains or til (sesame seeds) or Gud (sugarcane). Not just that, it is an opportunity to get rid of the unwanted stuff languishing in our houses by burning them, symbolic of destruction of our stale thoughts and attachment to material things.

There are 2 ways to view any festival celebrated in our Sanatan Dharm – scientific (material) & spiritual

THE SCIENTIFIC / MATERIAL VIEW:

Makar Sankranti is the day when the Sun stops its journey to the Southern Hemisphere and starts its journey to the Northern Hemisphere. It is also the period when the winter crops are harvested. This is the day when the Sun enters the Makara Raashi or Capricorn Zodiac sign. In a primarily agrarian culture as ours, it is obvious that farmers depended completely on the Sun for the growth of their crops. The Sun is the giver of rains and the seasons are based on the travel of the Sun. It is only the Sun which naturally gives warmth against the cold winter months. In India seeds are sowed on auspicious days of particular seasons. Since ours is a culture which believes in thanking the bountiful Mother Nature, it is obvious that the first God that man would thank would be the one he saw daily – the Sun. Along with that, he would also worship the water bodies, birds and cattle, all of who were responsible for the bountiful crops. Thus on Makar Sankranti day, the Sun God is worshiped, people take bath in holy rivers and tanks, feed birds and decorate their cows and bulls and let them run free.

THE SPIRITUAL VIEW:

Nothing in Bharat is just about the mortal world or the physical view. Our Rishis (one could proudly call them Scientists) always balanced the material with the spiritual. One question which could pop in one’s mind is that when there are 12 Sankramanas (travel of the Sun into the 12 Zodiac signs), why is Makar (Capricorn) Sankramana so important? The Planet Saturn rules Capricorn. In our scriptures, Saturn is the son of Surya, the Sun God. He is shown as dark and brooding and very slow in his gait. Makar Sankranti is the day when Surya visits his son Shani. This itself is important. When a father visits his son, it shows that the father considers his son as a Karta (the chief of his family). It makes the onlooker respect both, the father and the son. Secondly, if Surya dispels Ignorance and Darkness, Shani delivers Justice and bless one with Vairagya (Detachment). This is the spiritual importance of this festival. One cannot attain detachment without the light of knowledge blooming within. And just knowledge is of no use to the soul, if it does not lead one to Vairagya and thus unison with Brahman (the Ultimate). Moksh is possible only if the two meet. That is why Bhisma waited for Makar Sankranti to attain Moksha.

IMPORTANCE OF SESAME SEEDS (TIL) ON THIS DAY:

In Hindu mythology the god Yama (God of Death) blessed the sesame seed. Thus they are used in rituals associated with our Pitrs (ancestors).  The seed was supposed to have originated when drops of sweat trickled from Vishnu and fell to earth; they are also symbolized as Vishnu’s consort Lakshmi. Sesame seeds are believed to have a higher capacity to absorb spiritual purity (Sattva Gunn) and they remove the spiritually impure component (Rajas and Tamas Gunn). Also sesame seeds have high nutritional value with calcium and iron in abundance. When combined with Gur (Jaggery), it provides iron and heat to the body, both of which are required during the cold winter months.

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL:

On this day, Surya Dev visits his son Shani Dev, who is the ruler of the Makar Raashi.

It was on this day when Lord Vishnu ended the ever increasing terror of the Asuras by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandara Parvata (Mountain).

From this day Goddess Saraswati is worshipped as it marks the beginning of Vasant Navaratri.

In Punjab, the day before Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Lohri and huge bonfires are lit.

In Assam it is known as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu.

In Gujarat and many parts of North India, people offer thousands of their colorful oblations to the Sun in the form of beautiful kites.

In Tamil Calendar, the first day of this festival corresponds to last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi. It is a festival celebrated widely in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They celebrate the festival for 4 days & it is called Pongal festival. The first day of the festival is also known as Bhogi, the day when Kodai Andal (Goda Devi), a woman devotee and Saint became one with SriRangaswamy.

In Jagannath temple at Puri, Odisha, this festival is observed as Uttarayana Yatra and Uttarayan Vandapana of Lord Jagannath. People offer a special kind of newly harvested rice and sugarcane mixed with jaggery, grated coconut, banana, molasses, chenna (cheese), Khua, various fruits, dry fruits and milk called “Makara Chaula” to the presiding deity, the SunGod & light the bonfire.

In Maharashtra people believe that Sankarasur Rakshasa, a very cruel Rakshasa was killed when Goddess Sankranti appeared on the earth and killed him to protect Her devotees. To celebrate the downfall of Sankarasur, people started festival Sankranti. This is a special day for the women in Maharashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called ‘Haldi-Kunku’ (literally meaning turmeric-vermillion) and given gifts such as utensils, clothes etc.

This is the SUGGI or harvest festival for farmers of Karnataka. An important ritual is display of cows and bulls in colourful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession. Women here also celebrate the Haldi-Kumkum with other married women.

In Kerala at Sabarimala, the Makara Jyothi (Celestial light) is visible and it is followed by the Makaravilakku celebrations.

**** Let us celebrate this day when all are encouraged to tread the spiritual path and work towards raising ourselves from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from attachment to detachment and celebrate it with our family and friends, without any indulgence in vices. Celebrations should be positive and should encourage one towards showing gratitude, not indulgence to self. ****

HAPPY MAKAR SANKRANTI … JAI HIND !!!


Rati Hegde

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