Makar Sankranti is one of the most auspicious festivals among the people of Hindu religion in India. This festival is celebrated with lots of devotion and fervor in different parts of India. This festival has great religious significance. There are numerous religious stories related to the period during which Makar Sankranti is observed.
Story behind Sankranti
According to Purana, on this special day of Makar Sankranti Lord Sun meets his son Sani for the first time who is husband of the Makar rasi. As they never meet earlier so this meeting is regarded as a memorable one. According to another religious story veteran Vishma wished to die during this auspicious time of Makar Sankranti. Another story says that on the day of Maker Sankranti Lord Krishna demolished the terrorism of ashura and makes an end of all Ashura. After that he buries all the head of Ashura under the Mandar Parvat. Hence this period symbolizes the ending of evil power and darkness from the earth and beginning of new era.
This grand festival is celebrated throughout the country with different customs and cultures. Every region has certain way of celebration which usher more beauty to the festival. Maker Sankranti festival brings in an opportunity for people in the community to take a break from their hectic schedule and get together to share each other's company. Though there are differences in varied regions in celebrating the festival but there are some resemblances also in certain feelings and emotions which assure the oneness of the people of the country. This festival is celebrated as a harvest festival across the country so all Hindu people want to show their respect to the element of nature through the celebration of Makar Sankranti. This festival helps to make the bond of brotherhood as well boosts the spirit of unity among the people and brings peace to the earth. It is notable that on the day of Makar Sankranti the glorious Sun-God of Hindus begins its ascendancy and makes entry into the Northern Hemisphere.
Sankranti in different parts of India
In different states of India this festival is given different names as in Assam it is known as Mgha Bihu or Bhogali bihu, In Uttar Pradesh khichiri, in Tamil Nadu as Pongal, in Andhra Pradesh Pedda Panduga, in Karnataka as Sankranti, in Punjab as Lohari. I have compiled some of information of various cultures and customs of different states to celebrate this auspicious Makar Sankranti.
Pedda Panduga in Andhra Pradesh
In Andhra Pradesh Makar Sankranti is known as Pedda Pandaga( Bhogi Panduga in Telugu language) which is the most admired festivals of this state. This popular festival continues for four days. The festival begins with Bhogi and the second day is known as Sankranti. Sankranti is followed by Kanuma and the last day of the festival is called Mukkanuma. This festival is regarded as harvest festival and worships Lord Indra - the God of Clouds and Rains. This festival is very popular among the farmers and they offer special poojas to the farming tools like plough, oxen and the cattle in their respective yard on the day of Bhogi. Basically Bhogi falls a day prior to Makara Sankranti day. On the day of Makar Women of this state prepare a special kind of sweet rice known as Chakkara Pongali. Basically this sweet rice is prepared from new crops. Before people take the sweet rice it is offered to Lord Indra. Another noteworthy custom is that a special prayer is given by the married women to Goddess Lakshmi by offering newly made turmeric powder, kumkum powder, beetel leaves, beetel nut, fruits including new sugarcane pieces and locally available berries (known as taamboolam in local language). After performing the prayer women distribute taamboolam to other married women folk in their community. This age old custom is still popular in this state.
Pongal in Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu Makar Sankranti is known as Pongal and it is one of the most important festival of the year. People regard this festival as the harvest festival hence this festival is very popular particularly among the farmers of Tamil Nadu. This festival starts from 14th January in every year and continues for four days. The first day of the festival is popularly known as Bhogi Pongal in Tamil Nadu. This name Pongal has a special significance as this name is derived from the word ponga which literally means boil and it is named after the special sweet dish cooked by boiling rice with milk. Preparing this delicious dish (called as Pongal)on this grand occasion is one of the age old traditions of the state. This sweet dish contains cardamom, jaggery, raisins, and cashew nuts. Basically women prepare this dish under open sky in sunlight in any open yard or porch. They use a decorated pot to prepare this dish which is called Kollam. They usually prepare two types of Pongal one is sweet and other is salted and serve it on banana leaves. Second day is called Surya Pongal or Perum Pongal. During this festive occasion special prayer is performed to God, the Sun, the Earth by the people. This day has a symbolical significance also. On this day people abandon old things and focus on new belongings. In the morning people congregate in courtyard to light a bonfire to discard old used belongings. All people wear new clothes and decorate their houses beautifully. People take part in the festival enthusiastically by presenting their gifts to family and friends. The third day of the festival is known as Mattu Pongal. On this day farm animals like cattles are worshipped, bathed, and served Pongal by the people of Tamil Nadu. The last day is called as Thiruvalluvar day or Kaanum Pongal. On this day people visit to friends and relatives home and spending their times by meeting friends and relatives with great gaiety and splendor. This day brings together family, friends and relatives.
Lohri in Panjab
Lohri is the most waited festival of Panjab. Panjabi people celebrate this harvest festival with lots of pomp and merriment. With the celebration of the festival Punjabis welcome the spring season and New Year. According to a story Lohri is celebrated in remembrance of Dulha Batti. Though Dulha Batti was a Muslim robber but he was an honest person and did some good deeds for the welfare of poor and needy people. Under his robbery there was good motive since he robbed wealth from rich people and distributed them among the poor peoples. He was popular among Panjabis and they express their gratitude to Dulha Batti through the Lohri songs.
Panjabi people have some traditional customs and rituals to celebrate this festival. On this auspicious day they light bon fire in open field or court yard of houses. This custom has resemblance with some customs of Pongal of Tamil Nadu and Magh Bihu of Assam. People through rewaries, sugar-candy, popcorn, sesame seeds, gur, into the fire and thus they offer prayer to Agni (the fire god) to bless the land for prosperity. They wear colorful new dress and circle around (parikrama) the bonfire. Thereby the fun-loving, enthusiastic Panjabi people begin to dance the Bhangra(male dance) or Gidda(female dance) to the beat of the dhol around the fire and make the whole atmosphere very cheerful and enjoyable. People distribute prasad (offerings made to god) among the people andthis prasad contains five main items such as til, gajak, jaggery, peanuts, and popcorn. Following the Lohri next day is celebrated as Maghi. People celebrate this day amidst of Bhangar dance and song. Another favorite traditional dish of this occasion is makki-di-roti (multi-millet hand-rolled bread) and sarson-da-saag (cooked mustard herbs) which are served on the feast sitting around the bonfire. It is the occasion which brings together all friends, relatives and families thereby boost the bond of brotherhood among the people through this grand festival. Feelings of joy and jubilation grip all who celebrate the occasion of thanksgiving and merry-making.
Uttarayan in Gujarat
Among numerous festivals of Gujarat Uttarayan is one of the most awaited and the grandest festivals. When other parts of the country celebrate Makar Sankranti with lots of joy and jubilation and in Gujarat people celebrate Uttarayan in same spirit. People of Gujarat celebrate this day by flying kites in the sky thereby they greet the sun and summer after the cold winter months. Whole state becomes very colorful with multi-colored kites in the sky. Kites of different shapes and sizes and colored are flown on the sky spreading love, happiness and peace among people. People enjoy the competition of cutting the string of the nearby kite-flyers and bring down their kites. People from all ages take part to fly exotic different designed kites enthusiastically and all people congregate in open space, field and on the roof tops and terrace of houses to fly kites. Nobody gets exhausted by flying kites from dawn to dusk. Women of the state prepare special foods such as undhiyu (a delicacy of vegetables), jalebi (sweets), til ladoo (sweets made of sesame seeds) and chikki on this grand occasion.
Magha Bihu or Bhogali Bihu in Assam
Like Pongal, Sankranti and Lohri festival of other states in Assam Magha bihu or Bhogali bihu is celebrated by Assamese people in amidst of some traditional rituals. It is a harvest festival and this bihu marks the end of harvesting. The underneath meaning of the word Bhogali is the festival of foods. Magh bihu falls in 14th and 15th January in the month of Magha. The first day of the Mahgha bihu is known as uruka. On this day people erect makeshift huts, known as bhela ghar (from bamboo, leaves and thatch) and on the night of uruka people do dinner in this hut amidst fun and merriment in that bhela ghar. The most significant custom of the day of uruka is building meji by piling firewood. The mejis are usually built in open field, court yard etc. On the day of uruka the Assamese women prepare different types of delicious pithas (rice cake) including til pitha, ghila pitha, til ladu, coconut ladu etc. On the next day is Magh bihu and people get up early in the morning and take their bath. After that people of all ages congregate around the meji. They set fire on the holy meji taking God's name and worship Agni the God of fire by offering coconut, betel nut, pitha(rice-cakes) and till ladu(consists of gur and sesame seeds). It is tradition of consuming different types of roasted potatoes like mitha aloo(sweet potatoes), muwa aloo on this special day of bihu. During this day various traditional sports are played in every village throughout the state for fun and amusement. People of all ages participate in popular game like egg-fight. Besides these they play some other exciting games where involve pets and domestic animals also. Among this games Buffalo-fight, bird-fight (birds may be cock, hen to nightingale etc) are the most enthralling and popular traditional games of Assamese people.
Khichiri in Uttar Pradesh
In Uttar Pradesh, Sankranti is popularly called Khichiri. People of this part celebrate this festival with lots of devote by taking a dip in the holy rivers on this day. They regard this custom very auspicious for well-being of human beings. On this grand occasion Magha-Mela fair begins at Prayag (Allahabad) and it lasts almost one month. Whole atmosphere of the state filled the air of festivities and merriment.
Sankranti in Karnataka
Like Pongal,Magha Bihu, Lohri of other state in Karnataka celebrates Makar Sankranti as day of goodwill and friendship. People exchange special kind of sweets which is known as yello bella, to make peaceful bond of friendship by eating sweet yello and bella. By eating this sweets people want to forget all past envy and grudge for each other. This sweet yello is a combination of fried sesame, peanuts and gram with jaggery and copra. On that special feast they eat rice and moong dal kichdi (both sweet and salt), curries with freshly harvested field beans, sweet potato, sweet pumpkin, etc.