Makar Sankranti — All You Need to Know
Makar Sankranti is a holiday dedicated to the sun god, Surya, and is the celebration of the sun entering the zodiac sign of Capricorn or Makar which marks the end of the winter and the start of longer days.
Although Makar Sankranti traditions are a little different in the different regions of India, the general celebration is the same. On this holiday, people will worship the sun god, Surya, by going to temples and taking a cleansing bath in the Ganges River. People also often eat sweets made of jaggery and sesame and participate in the kite festival.
Makar Sankranti is called various names throughout India. It is known as Maghi in North India, Sukarat in central India, Magh Bihu in Assam, and Pongal in Tamil Nadu. Many other Indian states also call it Makara Sankranti.
Why You Should Experience Makar Sankranti in India
- Watch the burning of temporary huts called Meji and Bhelaghar in Assam.
- Savor the abundance of sweets and desserts made of jaggery and sesame such as laddoo and halwa that are served during this festival.
- Participate in the fun of the International Kite Festival in Gujarat.
- Visit the Ganga Mela fair in West Bengal which is an annual gathering of pilgrims where you can witness many devotees participating in the tradition of bathing in the river.
- Watch the Jallikatu ritual in Tamil Nadu, where participants attempt to jump onto the back of a bull while it attempts to escape.
Makar Sankranti, also known as Maghi or Makara Sankranti, is an important Hindu festival and celebrates the sun's journey back into the northern hemisphere which is considered to be a highly positive event.
Makar Sankranti is marks the first day when the sun is transiting into Capricorn, also known as Makara in Hindi. It also marks the end of the month of the winter solstice and when the days begin to get longer and the warmth returns.
This festival is dedicated to Surya, the sun god. On this day, many devotees visit temples early in the morning after a ritual bath in the Ganges and pray to Surya for blessings for the whole family.
During this festival, India's biggest fair, Ganga Sagar Mela, is held in West Bengal. This fair is an annual gathering of pilgrims who come to perform several rituals including lighting lamps and chanting. Thousands of pilgrims will also wash themselves in the holy waters of the Ganges River to purify their souls.
When is Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti is one of the few ancient Indian festivals that is observed according to solar cycles while the dates of most Hindu festivals are set by the lunar calendar. This festival almost always falls on January 14, except in certain years when the date shifts by just one day.
Upcoming Makar Sankranti Dates:
- 2020: January 15th
- 2021: January 14th
- 2022: January 14th
Makar Sankranti Legends and History
The constellation of Makara or Capricorn directly related to Saturn and on Makar Sankranti the sun enters into the sight of Saturn. One of the major legends surrounding the festival say that the sun is the father of Saturn.
According to Hindu mythology, the sun who is the father and Saturn, his son, do not get along well. But on Makar Sankranti, the father goes to meet his son.
Both Saturn and Sun are mighty planets whose blessings are believed to allow humans to achieve great success. Because of this, on Makar Sankranti, people pray to both the sun and Saturn.
Another legend around this holiday focuses on one of the characters in the Mahabharata, Bhishma, who died during this time. Bhishma was killed when he was pierced with the arrows of Arjuna on the battleground of Kurukshetra.
Bhishma was blessed by the gods with the power to choose his time of death so he decided to wait on a bed of arrows until the day of Makar Sankranti because it is believed that those who die during this period have no rebirth.
The last legend of Makar Sankranti says that on the day of the holiday, King Bhagirath bathed in the holy Ganges River in order to free his ancestors form a curse. Because of this, Makar Sankranti is also considered to be a day where people can be freed of suffering and pain.
How Makar Sankranti Is Celebrated
Makara Sankranti is a holiday that is important for spiritual practices. On this day, people will take a dip in holy rivers such as the Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri to cleanse themselves of sins. Many people also perform a prayer to the sun as thanks for their success and prosperity.
Another shared cultural practice that takes place during this holiday is making traditional sweets from sesame and jaggery. This type of sweet is symbolizes being together in peace and joy, despite the differences between individuals. It is also believed that consuming sesame can help a person with inner purification.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Suggi in Karnataka and is a harvest festival for farmers. On this day, girls will wear new clothes to visit their dear ones with a plate containing white sesame seeds mixed with fried groundnuts, dried coconut, candy molds, and jaggery.
This festival signifies celebrates the harvest season of sugarcane which is the predominant crop in this area. In some parts of Karnataka, newly married women are required to give bananas to married women every year for five years on this day. The number of bananas given increases in multiples of five every year.
In northern Karnataka, community kite flying is another popular tradition.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated for four days in Andhra Pradesh. The day before the actual festival is called Bhoghi which is celebrated by the throwing away of their old items to help bring about change or transformation.
At dawn on the next day, people gather to light a bonfire that burns on wood, solid fuels, and wooden furniture that is no longer useful.
On the day of the actual festival, it is a tradition to wear new clothes, pray to the sun, and make offerings of traditional food to ancestors.
The third day is known as Kanuma and is very special for farmers because it is the day to showcasing their cattle and honor them as cattle are symbols of prosperity. Girls also feed animals, birds, and fish on this day as a symbol of sharing wealth.
The fourth day is called Mukkanuma and is the day when people are allowed to eat meat again because they are not allowed to during the first three days of the festival. On this day, it is also popular to go outside and fly kites.
In Maharashtra, there is a popular tradition of exchanging multicolored halwa (a sugary sweet coated in syrup) and til-gul laddoo (sweets made from sesame seeds and jaggery). This is done to symbolize forgetting past ill-feelings and resolving to speak sweetly and remain friends.
Tamil Nadu also celebrates Makar Sankranti as the holiday Pongal which lasts for four days. The first day of festival, Boghi, is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials by setting them on fire. This marks the end of the old and the emergence of the new.
The second day of the festival is called Thai Pongal and is celebrated by making a dessert called Pongal that is made by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery then topping it with brown sugar, cashew nuts, and raisins. This is done early in the morning and the mixture is traditionally allowed to boil over.
The Pongal dessert is then offered to the Sun God to give thanks for the prosperity of the harvest. It is later eaten by family and friends.
The third day is called Maattu Pongal and focuses on offering thanks to cattle. The cattle are decorated with paint, flowers, and bells and are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane. In some places and event called Jallikattu, or the running of bulls ritual is also held.
The last day is called Kaanum Pongal during which people visit their relatives and friends to enjoy the festive season.
Learn more about Pongal and how it is celebrated in Tamil Nadu.
Where to Celebrate Makar Sankranti in India
These are some of the best places to see the celebrations of Makar Sankranti. In Assam, you will get to see the burning of temporary huts called Meji and Bhelaghar.
In Gujarat, people participate in the International Kite Festival. In Punjab, check out the famous bhangra dances.
In Assam, the celebration of Makar Sankranti is known as Magh Bihu and is a festival marked by feasts and bonfires.
During the celebrations, young people erect temporary huts, known as Meji and Bhelaghar, from materials such as bamboo, leaves, and thatch. They will then eat the food prepared for the feast and burn the huts the next morning.
Assamese games such as tekeli bhonga or pot-breaking and buffalo fighting are also featured during this festival.
Uttarayan, as Makar Sankranti is called in Gujarati, is celebrated for two days. The people of this central state excitedly await this festival for the chance to fly kites called patang in the International Kite Festival.
Kites here are made of special light-weight paper and bamboo and the string often contains abrasives to cut down other people's kites.
On the day of the festival, the skies are filled with thousands of kites as people enjoy two full days of kite flying. The goal of the game is to be the last kite left flying and to cut down the other kites. This festival is a fun event to watch and to participate in.
There is also a friendly kite-flying zone organized by the city for those who don’t want their kites cut.
In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is known as Maghi. During the celebrations, you will see many Hindu devotees bathing in rivers in the early morning and lighting lamps filled with sesame oil as this is supposed to bring prosperity.
In the evening, everyone gets together to participate in a folk dance called bhangra. They then sit and eat a large meal that includes food such as kheer (rice cooked in milk and sugarcane juice) and khichdi (a dish made of rice and lentils), that are specially prepared for the occasion.
How to Celebrate Makar Sankranti as a Traveler
The kite festival is an activity that every traveler must participate in to celebrate Makar Sankranti. Many people will gather around in an open field and fly their kites of different designs and colors. This is a great opportunity to interact with locals and make friends.
Travelers should also make sure to try the delicious traditional food that is served during this festival. Most of the food will be sweets and desserts such as kheer and laddoos. You can find these dishes at many restaurants, markets, and street food vendors across the country.
Tips for Experiencing Makar Sankranti
- If you are participating in the kite festival, make sure to not fly them in narrow spaces or terrace borders. The kite strings can be sharp and cut others.
- Dress in warm clothing as it may still be very cold during the festival, especially in North India.
Experience Makar Sankranti with Asia Highlights
Want to celebrate Makar Sankranti but don’t know where to start? At Asia Highlights, we can help tailor-make your entire trip from the bookings and food recommendations to arranging attractions and activities so that you can experience Makar Sankranti to its fullest.