Makar Sankranti, the festival of kites and til chikkis is here! And while you’re busy cutting the manjha of your neighbour’s kite while depleting the world’s supply of sesame, think back a little on what all you know about the festival, other than it’s playful and satiates your chikki desires? Can’t think of anything? Read on!
1. One of the few Indian festivals that falls on the same day every year according to the Gregorian calender.
Most Hindu festivals follow the position of the moon and are based on the lunar calendar. Thus, the dates of festivals change every year. But Makar Sankranti is a festival which falls on the same day every year as it follows the solar calender. However, once every eighty years, due to revolution, the day is postponed by one day. Makar Sankranti is celebrated on the 14th of January every year (sometimes on the 15th) for now. From 2050, it is predicted that the festival will fall on the 15th January (and occasionally on the 16th).
2. Why is it called Makar Sankranti?
On Makar Sankranti, the sun enters the sun-sign of Capricorn or Makara (the Indian rashi). Therefore the ‘Makar’ in the name. The word ‘Sankranti’ signifies the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign to another. Thus, the name of the festival literally means the movement of the sun into Capricorn.
3. Day and night are equally long.
As Makar Sankranti is one of the oldest solstice festivals and falls on the equinox, day and night on this day are believed to be equally long. Post the festival, it is officially the beginning of spring or the onset of Indian summer and the days become longer, and nights shorter.
4. Same festival, a million different names.
Though extremely popular as Makar Sankranti, the festival is predominantly a harvest festival and is celebrated throughout India, from north to south and east to west. While Makar Sankranti is most popular in West India, down south, the festival is known as Pongal and in the north, it is celebrated as Lohri. Uttarayan, Maghi, Khichdi are some other names of the same festival.
5. Why do we consume til-gul?
Makar Sankranti is the festival of til-gul where sesame and jaggery laddoos or chikkis are distributed among all. They are generally accompanied by the saying, “Til-gul ghya ani gud gud bola“, which translates to ‘eat these sesame seeds and jaggery and speak sweet words’. The festival is one of bonding where every member of society is asked to bury the hatchet with enemies and foes and live in peace. Also, it is a superstition that during the festival, the Sun God forgets his anger on his son Shani and visits him. Thus, by distributing sweets, everyone is asked to spread joy around. Also, since the festival falls in winter, eating of sesame and jaggery is considered beneficial to health as they are warm foods. Thus, it is specifically this sweet that’s distributed as it signifies bonding and good health.
6. Why do we fly kites on Makar Sankranti?
There is a very interesting reason behind the kite-flying. Kite-flying in olden days was generally done in the early hours of the morning, when the sun’s rays were bright but not too harsh. Also, during kite-flying, the human body was exposed to the sun for long hours. The early morning sun is considered beneficial for the skin and body. Since winter is also the time of a lot of infections and sickness, by basking in the sun, Hindus believed that the bad bacteria on their bodies would be cleared to a certain extent. Creating a fun way of sun basking where no one would even realise they were reaping benefits was through kite flying. Cool, right?
Makar Sankranti generally marks the beginning of the Kumbh Mela in Uttar Pradesh while in South India, in Kerala, one of the most austere and difficult pilgrimages of Shabrimala ends on this auspicious day. Other parts of the country too, celebrate by taking a dip in the holy rivers flowing through states to cleanse themselves of sins. It is also believed that if you die during Makar Sankranti, you are not reborn but go directly to heaven.