By Swami Harshananda
Saṅkrānti means ‘the apparent passage of the sun from one rāśi (sign of the zodiac) to the next. Hence the rāśi in which the sun enters is designated as the Saṅkrānti like Meṣa Saṅkrānti, Vṛṣabha Saṅkrānti and so on.
Significance of Makara Saṅkrānti
Makara Sañkrānti is an important festival connected not only with bathing but also with the harvest season. It is also called as Uttarāyaṇa Puṇyakāla. However out of these Makara Saṅkrānti, which usually falls generally on January 14, from which the northern journey, uttarāyaṇa, starts and Karkāṭaka SaṅkrāntiCite error: Closing
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<ref> tag in Saṅkrānti is generally spread over 16 ghaṭikās, 8 ghaṭikās on either side of the actual moment of crossing of the sun from the previous rāśi into the next. This time is to be used for fasting, japa and dāna (giving gifts) only and not for anything else.
Rites of Makara Saṅkrānti
The rites prescribed for Makara Saṅkrānti are:
- Bath in a holy river like the Gaṅgā
- Tarpaṇa or offerings with water to gods and manes
- Gifts to worthy brāhmaṇas and other deserving persons
Celebrations in Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu, the Makara Saṅkrānti is a harvest festival. It is called as Poṅgal. Poṅgal is a kind of sweet preparation made out of sugar or jaggery, rice, ghee and milk. It is prepared from the newly harvested crops and offered to the Sun-god. The day prior to the Poṅgal, is called as Bhogi. It is a day dedicated to changing the old articles in the house for the new ones, especially old clothes, and consigning them to flames. The day after the Poṅgal day is reserved for the observance of the ‘Cattle Day’ with bull-fights or taming the wild bulls by the strong young men of the village.
Celebrations in Karnataka
In Karnataka, exchanging of sesame preparation called ellu and blocks of sugar called as sakkare accu is a pleasant social aspect of the festival. Washing and decorating the cattle and making them jump over a burning fire specially lit up for the occasion as a sort of exorcising the evil spirits that may harm them, is also a common feature.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore