Every year there are hundreds of festivals celebrated in India which are an integral part of people’s lives. Among the most auspicious of occasions for Hindus is Makar Sankranti, celebrated every year on the 14th of January. (Archeological surveys also reveal that the Mayans also celebrated a similar kind of festival – which would make it a 6000-year-old style of celebration!)
Because the Indian traditional calendar is based on lunar position, none of the other major Indian festivals have a fixed date every year. But being a solar event, Sankranti comes every year on January 14. Makar Sankranti is basically a celebration of a cosmic event and human life.
Like the ancient Greeks, Indians too give importance to the sun as a god of intelligence and wisdom. Derived from ancient Indian language, the word ‘Sankranti’ means the transmigration of the Sun from one Rashi (Zodiac) to another, namely from Dhanu Rashi (Sagittarius) to Makar Rashi (Capricorn). This special day in mid-January marks the moment when the God Sun (Surya) begins its ascendancy and enters into the northern hemisphere. Regarded as the beginning of the harvesting season, this festival has various names all over the country, such as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bhogali Bihu in Assam, Maghi in Haryana, Shishur Saenkraat in the Kashmir Valley and Pithey in Bengal.
One major aspect of this festival is a must-take bath in the holy Triveni Sangam in the city of Prayag in Allahabad. Famous as the king of all holy places, this Sangam is the point of confluence of three rivers: the Ganges, the Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati. All the gods are said to visit this place on this day to take a dip. Thus, people believe that taking a bath or dip in this sacred Sangam will not only wash away all their sins but also clear the way to heaven.
Though there is not any religious belief behind the idea of flying kites, I personally think the custom is tied up with the fact that during winter we all suffer with rough skin and many other common diseases like bronchitis and sinusitis, which are mainly due to the cold climate. So when on January 14 the sun enters into northern hemisphere, it terminates the cold winter season bringing along warmer spring days. Coming in contact with direct sun automatically cures some of these diseases, as sunlight has great healing power and tremendous health benefits.
Whatever the reason is behind this colorful event, Makar Sankranti is celebrated in almost every part of India in various cultural forms. There’s no doubt this festival is celebrated with great devotion, gaiety and joy all over.