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According to Hindu astronomy, it is on Makar Sankranti that the sun enters the rashi (zodiac) of makara (Capricorn) which coincides with the English month of January. Unlike other Hindu festivals which come on different days every year, Makar Sankranti always falls on 14th of January. On this day the sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. Makar Sankranti is considered very auspicious as it signifies a new beginning. It is also known as Uttarayan. From this day, the duration of the day increases and that of the night decreases and winter recedes, paving the way for the summer.

In the coastal regions, it is a harvest festival dedicated to Indra. It is for this holy day that Bhishma, after laying down his arms in the Mahabharata war and lying on a bed of arrows, waited to give up his body. As per tradition, any person dying on this day reaches the Abode of Light and Eternal Bliss. 

Lohri in the north brings lot of joy
In the northern states of India as the winter is at its peak, people get busy preparing for Lohri which is a long-awaited bonfire festival which is celebrated in honour of harvesting the rabi (winter) crop. The festival is celebrated with much singing and dancing. In the morning children go from door to door singing and demanding Lohri goodies in the form of money and eatables like gajak, peanuts, jaggery, rewri etc.

They sing in praise of Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi avatar of Robin Hood who robbed the rich to help the poor. As legend has he had once helped a miserable village girl out of her misery by getting her married off like his own sister. In the evening, with the setting of the sun, huge bonfires are lit in the harvested fields and in the front yards of houses and people gather around the rising flames, circle around (parikrama) the bonfire and throw puffed rice, popcorn and other munchies into the fire, shouting "Aadar aye dilather jaye" (May honor come and poverty vanish!), and sing popular folk songs. This is a sort of prayer to Agni, the fire god, to bless the land with abundance and prosperity. After the parikrama, people meet friends and relatives, exchange greetings and gifts, and distribute prasad which comprises of five main items: til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn. Winter savories are served around the bonfire with the traditional dinner of makki-di-roti and sarson-da-saag. Some people also make gobhi pakore, khajure, dahi bhalle and end with kurmure aur phuliyan ke laddoo. Men dance the bhangra and women enjoy separately dancing the gidda. The first Lohri of a new bride or a newborn baby is considered extremely important.

Goodies made especially for Sankranti
No festival in India is complete without the array of delicacies that are prepared especially for the occasion and Makar Sankranti is no exception. Each state has its own special dishes, but what is common all over the country is Sesame or til – this aromatic seed is used to prepare a number of delicacies, mostly sweets. 

Celebration throughout the Nation

Maha Kumbha Mela in Prayag
Maha Kumbha Mela, the biggest mela (religious fair) on the face of the earth is held once in twelve years in each of the four important holy places in India – Nasik, Ujjain, Haridwar and Allahabad. Of these the one held at Prayaag, the holy confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati in the city of Allahabad, draws the maximum number of pilgrims. And this is held from the Makar sankranti day. Kumbha Mela has crores of devotees - drawn from all castes and creeds, sects and languages and provinces, saints and commoners.

In Assam it is Bhogali Bihu
This day is celebrated in Assam as Bhogali Bihu to mark the end of the winter paddy harvest. On the night before the festival, people fast and pray and thatched pavilions are put up around the countryside. As a sign of the festival having begun, the pavilions are set on fire at dawn. Bull fights and celebrations mark the day.

Bengal celebrations
In Bengal on Makar Sankranti day a large number of people from all over Bengal gather at the confluence of river Ganga and sea for a ceremonial cleansing. In Kurseong, situated at an altitude of 2458 mts. (4864ft), 51 kms from Siliguri and 30 kms from Darjeeling, this festival is celebrated at the peak of winter. People visit temples and riverbanks to worship and take a holy dip.

In Rajasthan and Gujarat they fly kites
Makar Sankranti is a big kite festival in most parts of India. In Rajasthan, particularly in Jaipur, skies are filled with kites. In Jodhpur, the Desert Kite Festival is held during Makar Sankranti.

In Gujarat there is a special significance attached to the celebration of Makar Sankranti as the Kite Flying Day. The clear blue sky seems to beckon everyone and the people surrender themselves to the joys of kite flying.

In Maharashtra it is til gul
In Maharashtra, happy feelings of camaraderie is symbolized by the distribution of til-gul - sesame seed and jaggery. The sesame seed (til) brimming with fragrant and delicious oil, stands for friendship and comradeship and jaggery (gul) for the sweetness of speech and behavior. The distribution of til-gul with the words ‘Til gul ghya ani goad goad bola’ (partake this til gul and talk sweetly) signifies the feelings of brotherhood and harmony. In Maharashtra, this festival has another significance attached: gurus choose this season to bestow their grace on disciples.

Celebrations in Andhra
In Andhra Pradesh, the celebrations start a month in advance. Bhogi is the day preceding Sankranti and Kanumu is the day after. On Bhogi day, in the early morning, a bonfire is lit up with waste before the traditional special bath. Pongali (rice pudding with milk) is an important item during this festival. Special dishes, like ariselu (sweet rice cakes), are prepared. On Kanumu day animals are decorated and races are held, sometimes the banned cockfights, bullfights and ram fights are included. Sun, Mahabali (a mythological Dravidian king) and Godadevi (Goddess Goda) are worshipped during this harvest festival.

In Tamilnadu it’s pongal time
Pongal in Tamilnadu is celebrated to mark the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons as well as the reaping of the harvest. Pongal is strictly a rural festival. The Sun is worshipped for its rays are responsible for life on earth. It is the biggest harvest festival, spread over four days. The name of the festival is derived from Pongal, a rice pudding made from freshly harvested rice, milk and jaggery. The first day, Bhogi Pongal, is a day for the family. Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God. The third day, Mattupongal is for worship of the cattle. In Chennai (Madras), a rath yatra procession is taken out from the Kandaswamy Temple. In Madurai, Tanjore and Tiruchirrapalli, where Pongal is known as Jellikattu, bundles of money are tied to the horns of bulls and villagers try and wrest the bundles from them. Community meals are made from the freshly gathered harvest and enjoyed by the entire village.

A touch of miracle in Karnataka and Kerala
In Karnataka after the pujas, white sesame (ellu) mixed with pieces of jaggery, peanuts, dry coconut and sugar blocks (shakkare achchu) is exchanged. At Gavi Gangadhareshwara (Siva) temple in Bangalore’s Gavipuram, a rare phenomenon is witnessed in the evening. The sun’s rays pass through the horns of the Nandi briefly to fall on the lingam in the sanctum. It is an architectural marvel.

In Kerala, on Makar Sankranti evening, at the hill shrine of Sabarimala, lakhs of pilgrims witness a star-like celestial light of incredible splendour appearing on the horizon. Known as Makara Jyothi, this miracle occurs at the time of the evening Deeparadhana. Pilgrims consider it a great moment of fulfillment. Lord Ayyappa is adorned with special jewels known as Thiruvaabharanam. Legend has it that these jewels were donated to the Lord by the erstwhile Pandalam Maharaja, considered the foster father of the Lord. 

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