Sakranti means to go from one place to another place (to change direction). It also means one meets another. The time when the sun changes direction from one constellation (of the zodiac) to another is known as Sankranti.
Transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana) is known as Makar sakranti.
Solar Year – Importance of the Sun
There are 12 signs of the zodiac. There are 12 Sakrantis as well. They are given names according to the position of the sun in relation to the signs of the zodiac. Each of the 12 Sakrantis has its relevant importance but two of these are most prominent.
These two are Mesh Sakranti and Makar Sakranti (Aries and Capricorn).The solar year commences when the sun is in Aries (the first sign of the zodiac). From the point of view of mathematical calculations, the solar year is more scientific than the lunar year. One lunar year has 354 days only and lunar days (or nights) increase or decrease according to the phases of the moon. Compare this to the solar year which has 365 ¼ days and remains the same. Many astrological books are based upon solar calculations. The sun is the most important and the most prominent of our stars and the undisputed lord of our planetary system. The sun always comes first. First day of the week commences with Sunday (Ravi).
Science attaches great importance to the sun. The sun is the inexhaustible storehouse and the source of light and energy. Without sunlight creatures and vegetation would cease to exist. People will lose their life sustaining vitality. Lack of nourishing substances would lead to the end of creation. This is why the sun’s existence, movements and positions in the cosmos are so important and that is why the sun earns our respect, admiration and reverence.
The solar year commences when the sun is in Aries (the first sign of the zodiac). During this auspicious period, great deal of merits are acquired by performing Havan (Yajna or Sacred Fire ceremony), Japa (repetition of Mantra or God’s name), Shraddha, Charity etc. Householders top up their grain jars and families start wedding preparations for their sons and daughters of marriageable age.
The second Sakranti of great importance is Makar. Transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana) is known as Makar sakranti. The sun and journeys northward. The days are gradually lengthening in the northern hemisphere.
Makar Sakranti is also known as KHICHADI (Indian dish made from rice and lentils) Sakranti because on this day the injunction to eat Khichadi , is generally observed by people. Seasonal crops become available. Ghee, and spices are used for making tasty nourishing Khichadi. Winter loosens its grip on shiver producing cold, admitting springtime that brings with it the chance for all round health improvement.
In addition to Khichadi, great importance is attached to the use of TIL (Sesame seeds) during Makar Sakranti. Therefore, this Sakranti is also called TIL Sankranti. People make Laddoos (round balls) from Til. Til oil is used for massaging.
Six types of usage of Til are described. Til is used for Bathing, for Massaging, for Havan (sacred fire ceremony), Tarpan with Til (oblations of water with Til), Til used as food, and Til is donated in charity.
It is said that Til emanates from Vishnu’s body and that the above described usage wash away all kinds of sins. Sakranti period is held to be very auspicious and any good deeds during this time will produce merits. Gifts of clothing, blankets etc., on this day are productive of merits in both this life and in the next life.
Kite Flying Day
Makar Sakranti is also celebrated with great enthusiasm as the Kite flying day.
Gangasagar and Surya Puja
At Sakranti time great importance is attached to Ganga snaan (bathing with waters of the river Ganges) and Surya Puja (worshipping the sun). Bathing, worshipping gods, Havan, Japa, Fasting and Charity; each of these are extremely holy deeds.
From Makar Sakranti onwards when the sun is travelling northwards, innumerable auspicious things start happening. Climate and atmosphere improve. Children born during this period are naturally progressive, well mannered, pleasant and of noble disposition.
The Bhagavad Gita mentions the importance of the northern path of the sun at the time of death. This was the reason why Grandsire Bhishma, who was wounded in battle and in semi conscious state, while lying on the bed of arrows, chose to wait it out, awaiting the northward path of the sun, before choosing to die.
All such special reasons make the northward journey of the sun sacred and auspicious at Makar Sakranti.
Makara Sakranti – The Pongal
This is the day when the sun begins its northward journey. It usually falls in the middle of January. For the people of the northern hemisphere, the northward path of the sun marks the period when the sun is getting closer and closer to them, when the days are getting longer, and it is becoming warmer and warmer.
To Hindus, the sun stands for knowledge, spiritual light and wisdom. Makara Sakranti signifies that we should turn away from the darkness of delusion in which we live, and begin to joyously let the light within us shine brighter and brighter. We should gradually begin to grow in purity, wisdom, and knowledge, even as the sun does from this day.
In fact, the sun itself stands for all the ideals of the Pongal festival. Its message is that of light, unity, equality and true selflessness. These are the ideals of Karma Yoga. Hence, the sun is the greatest Karma Yogi. Does it ask any reward for all that it gives to us? If it stops shedding its light, we are doomed to death. If we learn this one lesson from the sun, our lives will shine with divine lustre like that of the sun.
Makara Sakranti is called Pongal by the Tamilians, from whom it ushers in the New Year. The day begins with Surya Pongal or sun worship. The newly harvested corn is then cooked for the first time.
Joyous festivities mark the celebration in every home. Servants, farmers and the poor are fed and clothed, and given presents of money. On the next day, the cow, which is regarded as the symbol of the Holy Mother, is worshipped. Birds and animals are also fed.
In this manner the devotee’s heart gradually expands during the course of the celebrations. Love extends from the household to servants, the poor, the cow and all other living creatures.
During this holy festival we learn to feel our oneness with all creation; we learn to be unselfish and to tread the path of love, purity and forgiveness. We learn that our real wealth is the goodwill and friendship of those around us, the land on which our food grows, and the animals that help to make our work lighter.