The word Sankrānti in Samskrta denotes the migration of the Sun from one Rāshi (sign of the zodiac) to another. This is generally considered a significant astronomical event and happens once every solar month (12 Sankrāntis a year). A celebration of harvest and crop is unanimous with the Sun, he being the basic originator of the entire food chain. Without Him, there would be no energy for the plant sources and without plant sources, there would be no energy transmission to the carnivores either. The Sun being the sustainance for the very life on earth, is worshiped and thanked on this day.
The tilt of the earth’s axis by 23.45 degrees causes the seasons. This is also the reason behind the six months of apparent northern movement of the sun (Uttarāyana) followed by six months of southern movement (Dakshināyana) across latitudes.Makara Sankrānti is calculated based on the tropical sun (without Ayanamsa). It is significant because the Sun moves northward from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn through the winter solstice in the month of Pausha (mid-January). However the precision of equinoxes (Ayanamsa) causes the date of Makara Sankranti to slide over the ages.
The Dhārmic calendar names each day based on the waning and waxing of the moon, which symbolizes the ebb and flow of life. It prescribes activities integrating holistic living aligned with nature. As the earth starts its northward part of the rotation it brings the promise of a harvest of abundance and happiness in many parts of India and the northern hemisphere around the world. The sowing season starts. Along the river Ganga in places like Ganga Sagar (where the river Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal) and Prayag/Allahabad, millions of people bathe to honor the co-mingling of one life force (Sun) with another (water).
Astronomy and astrology in ancient India was brought into the daily life through celebratory festivals. Makar Sankrānti is celebrated in myriad ways across India and across the globe. Starting from ancient times, the Dharmic festivals spread throughout the Indian-subcontinent and in the east as far as Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and in the west as far as America, as recorded by Mayans in South America. These festivals took on local hues depending on the climate, agricultural environment, evolving cultural landscape and location. Though somewhat modified over the millenia, many still retain their core essence and spirit.
- During the festival, there is usually an exchange of gifts with relatives. The festival reminds us to thank all who have contributed to our well being and of the world around us. An exuberant celebration of peace and harmony! Prayers of thanks and gratitude are offered to the Sun for a good harvest.
- On this day, many pray to the deity of education (Saraswati) for clarity of mind. The festival highlights the importance of withdrawing from unethical and disturbing behavior. Students are encouraged to study science, maths, astrology and astronomy emphasizing the astronomical basis of the festival.
- Kites are flown in many parts of the subcontinent. Kite flying while lot of fun to young at heart, conveys a deeper message that God is the Sutradhara — holding the string of man. Tensions of push and pull (of life) allow the kite to fly higher. If He lets it loose, the kite cannot fly.
- Sankrānti sweets are made of sesame seed and sugar. They represent affection and sweetness.
तिलवत् स्निग्धं मनोऽस्तु वाण्यां गुडवन्माधुर्यम् तिलगुडलड्डुकवत् सम्बन्धेऽस्तु सुवृत्तत्त्वं ।
अस्तु विचारे शुभसन्क्रमणं मङ्गलाय यशसे कल्याणी सन्क्रान्तिरस्तु वः सदाहमाशम्से ॥ – अज्ञात
May the mind be affectionate like sesame seeds, may there be sweetness in thy words as in jaggery. May there be goodness in thy relations as is in the relation of sesame and jaggery in a laddoo. May there be in thy thoughts a concurrence towards auspicious glory, I always wish that the festival of Sankrānti prove to be blessed and auspicious for one and all. – Anonymous
In India and around the world, Makar Sankranti is also known as Gupi, Lohri, Pongal, Thaipusam and by other names.