Makar Sankranti or Pongal, as we know, is a festival of sesame sweets and kite flying. However as one of the first festival of the New Year, it has a much deeper and richer significance to our lives. Here are 3 little known but extremely interesting facts:
1. Celestial Meaning: “Makar” meaning Capricorn constellation and “Sakranti” meaning transition, is the only Hindu festival that follows the solar cycle. It marks the end of the winter solstice and the start of the longer days and it is dedicated to the Sun god. The day marks the start of Uttarayana, the time when the sun starts to move northwards after the winter equinox. Initially, winter solstice and starting date of Uttarayana was the same, which is actually December 21st as per the Western Calendar. But as the equinoxes move by around 50 seconds each year due to the wobble of the Earth's axis there has been shift of over 24 days since it was first celebrated. This indicates that this festival is at least 1700 years ago.
2. Agriculture Significance: The festival also marks the end of winter harvest and the beginning of a new harvest season. It is celebrated according to different customs and traditions across the country. It is a day to acknowledge and pray to all those who assisted in the success of the harvest, starting with Sun & Earth, fellow human beings and the farm animals. It is a very big celebration for our farmers.
3. Kumbh Mela: Every twelve years, we observe Makar Sankranti with one of the world's largest mass pilgrimages, with an estimated 40 to 100 million people attending the event, the Kumbh Mela. At this event, people say a prayer to the sun and bathe at the confluence of the River Ganga and River Yamuna at Prayaga, it is a tradition attributed 8th-century guru Adi Shankaracharya.
Regionally in India, Makar Sankranti, is known by different names – Sankranti, Pongal, Uttarayan, Maghi, Lohri, Bihu, Makara Sankramana, Shishur Saenkraat or Khichdi. The Hindus across the world celebrate Makar Sankarnti, some of countries are Nepal, Burma, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Fiji, Reunion Islands, and South Africa etc.
In summary, Makar Sankranti festival celebrates our gratitude to the Sun and Mother Earth for nurturing us with food and hope!