Sankranti means transmigration of the Sun from one Rashi (Constellation of the Zodiac) to the next. Hence, there are 12 Sankrantis in a year. Of these the Makar Sankranti is considered the most auspicious. This is one of the few Hindu festivals that is aligned with the solar cycle. Here are some interesting information on Makar Sankranthi.
Why is Makar Sankranthi always on a fixed day unlike other Indian festivals?
From Makar Sankranti the Sun begins its northward journey and enters the Makar Rashi (the Capricorn constellation) from the Tropic of Capricorn. It is like the movement of Sun from Dakshinayana (south) to Uttarayana (north) hemisphere. As the position of the constellation is fixed, the sun passes through it on almost the same day each year in its celestial orbit.
Makar Sankranti marks the end of an inauspicious month in the Hindu calendar, and heralds a change in season. It is celebrated in the north as Lohri, in Assam as Bhogali Bihu and in the south as Pongal. In Gujarat and N India as the first rays of the warm Sun emerge people come out to bask in its warmth and fly kites.
Is Makar Sankranthi & Uttarayana the same?
While the exact day on which the winter or summer solstice occurs remains steady (within one day error), there is a slight change in the way the Earth’s rotation axis is aligned to the Sun. Hence, over a period of a few hundred years, this drift means that even though the sun begins its Uttarayan on December 21, it is not in the Makara Rashi as it was about 1,500 years ago. So, 1,500 years ago, during the time of Aryabhata, the Uttarayan and Makar Sankranti coincided. Now Makar Sankranti comes on January 14, but Uttarayan happens on Dec 21st. This also means that 1000 from years now Makar Sankranthi may well be celebrated in Feb.
Since the Rig Veda Hindu’s have looked upon the Sun God as the source of life on Earth and hence Makar Sankranthi is a special harvest festival across the country where gratitude is shown to the Sun god by offerings and prayers.
What offerings and prayers are offered to Sun god on this Day?
Farmers offer produce from their fresh harvest. Sweet & salt Pongal are made and Milk boils over to identify booming prosperity. The term ‘pongal‘ in Tamil means “to boil”, and this festival is celebrated as a thanksgiving ceremony for the year’s harvest. Sugar Cane & Turmeric which is also harvested at this time is offered. Its good to chant the Gayatri Mantra on this day. In T Nadu Pongal is as important a festival as Diwali.
Mythological Stories associated with Makar Sankranti
1. As per the Puranas on this day the Sun God visits the house of his son Shani (Saturn), who is the God of Makar Rashi (Capricorn). The father & son duo do not ordinarily get along well, but inspite of their differences, the Sun God makes it a point to meet his son on this day and stays in his house for a month.
2. From Uttarayana starts the ‘day’ of Devatas, while dakshinayana is said to be the ‘night’ of devatas, so most of the auspicious things are done during this time.
3. It was on this day when God Vishnu ended the ever increasing terrorism of the Asuras by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandar Parvat. So this occasion also represents the end of negativity and beginning of an era of righteous living. It is said that Lord Vishnu dropped drops of Amrita (the drink of immortality) at four places, while transporting it in a Kumbha (pot). These four places are identified as the present-day sites of the Kumbh Mela. The 1st official 1st Shahi Snan for this year Kumbh Mela will start on Makar Sankranti.
4. The great saviour of his ancestors, Maharaj Bhagirath, did great Tapasya to bring Gangaji down on the earth for the redemption of 60,000 sons of Maharaj Sagar, who were burnt to ashes at the Kapil Muni Ashram (Near the present day Ganga Sagar – Near Kolkata). It was on this day that Bhagirath finally did his prayers ( Tarpan) with the Ganges water for his unfortunate ancestors and thereby liberated them from the curse. After visiting the Patala for the redemption of the curse of Bhagirath’s ancestors Gangaji finally merged in the Sagar. Even today a very big Ganga Sagar Mela is organized every year on this day at the confluence of River Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Lakhs take dip in the water and do tarpan for their ancestors.
5. This day is also associated with Bhishma Pitama – The great grandsire of Mahabharata fame. Bhishma declared his intent to leave his mortal body on this day. He had the boon of Ichha-Mrityu from his father, so he kept lying on the bed of arrows till this day and then left his mortal coil on Makar Sankranti day
Wishing you all a very Happy Pongal
04 comments on “Why is Makar Sankranti always on Jan 14th / 15th”
I always had this doubt as to why there is a gap from the solistice to Makara sankranthi for uttarayan to commence. It is an interesting topic and very will explained. In your commentary, you also mentioned that sun moves from tropic of cancer to tropic of Capricorn. However, it is reverse. It should actually be a movement from Capricorn to cancer as Tropic of cancer is in the northern hemisphere. right?
Yes You are Right – will correct it, thanks for pointing it out
Thanks for a very informative post! How advanced was our astrologers, accurate to the hour, minute, second. British education system made even highly educated Indians trivialize our terrific knowledge tradition.