Thursday, January 13, 2011

Makar Sankranti is festival of God Sun celebrated with distinct names and rituals in different parts of the country

All over the country, Makar Sankranti is observed with great fanfare. However, it is celebrated with distinct names and rituals in different parts of the country. In the states of northern and western India, the festival is celebrated as the Sankranti day with special zeal and fervor. The importance of this day has been signified in the ancient epics like Mahabharata also. So, apart from socio-geographical importance, this day also holds a historical and religious significance. As, it is the festival of Sun God and he is regarded as the symbol divinity and wisdom, the festival also holds an eternal meaning to it.

In year 2011 Makar Sankranti will be celebrated on the 15th January 2011. Though it is usually celebrated on the 14th of every year, 2011 is an exception where the festival falls on 14,15 and 16th of January, where 14th beging Bhogi, 15th Makara Sankranthi and 16th Kanuma.

Andhra Pradesh:

The festival, Sankranti, is celebrated for four days in Andhra Pradesh as below:

Day 1 - Bhogi
Day 2 - Makara Sankranti (Pedda Panduga)
Day 3 - Kanuma
Day 4 - Mukkanuma

The day preceding Makara Sankranti is called Bhogi and this is when people discard old and derelict things and concentrate on new things causing change or transformation. At dawn people light a bonfire with logs of wood, other solid-fuels and wooden furniture at home that are no longer useful. The disposal of derelict things is where all old habits, the vices, attachment to relations and materials things are sacrificed in the sacrificial fire of the knowledge of Rudra, known as the "Rudra Gita Gyan Yagya. It represents realization, transformation and purification of the soul by imbibing and inculcating divine virtues.

In many families, infants and children (usually less than three years old) are showered with fruit called "Regi Pandlu", that is the Indian jujube fruit. It is believed that doing this would protect the children from evil eye. Sweets in generous quantities are prepared and distributed. It is a time for families to congregate. Brothers pay special tribute to their married sisters by giving gifts as affirmation of their filial love. Landlords give gifts of food, clothes and money to their workforce.

The second day is Makara Sankranti , also called "Pedda Panduga", which literally means "the big festival", when everyone wears new clothes, prays to God, and make offerings of traditional food to ancestors who have passed away.

On the day after Makara Sankranti, the animal kingdom is remembered and in particular, the cows. Young girls feed the animals, birds and fishes as a symbol of sharing. Travel is considered to be inappropriate, as these days are dedicated for re-union of the families. Sankranti in this sense demonstrates their strong cultural values as well as a time for change and transformation. And finally, gurus seek out their devotees to bestow blessings on them.

Kanuma Panduga is not as widely celebrated, but is an integral part of the Sankranti culture. Mukkanuma is popular among the non-vegetarians of the society.

People in Coastal Andhra do not eat any meat or fish during the first three days of the festival, and do so only on the day of Mukkanuma, where as people in Telangana region observe only the first two days as part of the festival and eat any meat or fish on Makara Sankranti (Pedda Panduga), the second day of the festival. For this festival all families prepare Ariselu, Appalu (a sweet made of Jaggery and Pumpkin) and make an offering to God.

This festival is celebrated in almost every village with adventurous games in South India. Whether it is the cock fights in Andhra, Bull fighting in Tamil Nadu or Elephant Mela in Kerala, there is huge amount of illegal betting but the so called "tradition" continues to play a major role in the festival.

Another notable feature of the festival in South India is the Haridas who goes around with a colorfully dressed cow, begging for rice wishing luck.


"Bihu anondia, Bihu binondia
Bihur mou mitha mat
Bihur ba lagi bihua kokair
Deu dhoni lagise gat"

(Bihu is full of joy, Bihu is beautiful, Bihu songs are very sweet, when the winds of Bihu flow. The dancing spirit possesses one's body).

Bihu is the most celebrated festival of Assam. It is a festival that transcends all religious and class barriers bringing people together in a free and uninhabited manner.

The festival of Bihu is celebrated with much pomp and fervour during different periods of the year. These are the festivals of food that mark the three stages of cultivation, i.e. beginning of the agricultural season, completion of transplantation and end of the harvesting season.

These festivals are celebrated by all people of various states irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Bihu is secular in concept because it is associated with agriculture.

Three forms of Bihu are celebrated in Assam: Bohag Bihu, celebrated in the middle of April which marks the New Year (In Assamese calendar) at the advent of seeding time; Kati Bihu, celebrated in the middle of October which marks the completion of sowing and transplanting of paddies; Magh Bihu, celebrated in the middle of January which marks the end of the harvesting period.

Magh Bihu:

Out of the three bihus, Magh Bihu is celebrated by the people of Assam with much enjoyment and happiness as it marks the ending of harvesting and people are at ease after a long labourious harvesting period.

Magh Bihu, also known as Bhogali Bihu, celebrated in mid-January, originates from the word 'Bhog' and signifies eating and enjoyment. It is a harvest festival and marks the end of harvesting season.

There is a lot of feasting and eating in this bihu celebration as the fields are full. On the eve of the bihu, called 'uruka', young men go to the field, preferably near a river, build a makeshift cottage called 'Bhelaghar' with the hay of the harvest fields and the 'Meji', the most important thing for the night. During the night, people prepare food and there is community feasting everywhere. The entire night (Uruka) is spent around the Meji with people singing bihu songs, beating 'Dhol', a typical kind of drums or playing games.

The next day is the main Magh Bihu. In the very early morning, people take bath and burn the main 'Meji'. People gather around the 'Meji' and throw 'Pithas' (rice cakes) and betel nuts to the fire while burning it at the same time. They offer their prayers to the God of Fire and mark the end of the harvesting year. Next day is followed with community celebrations all across with rice cakes being distributed to all. People visit relatives and friends to convey and exchange Bihu greetings.

A peculiarity of this festival is that in some parts of the state the traditional "Buffalo Fight" is organized to make the festival more interesting.


In Bihar, the festival is celebrated on 14-15th January.

On 14th January, it is celebrated as Makar Sankranti or Sakraat (in local dialects).As in other parts of country, people take bath in rivers and ponds and feast upon seasonal delicacies as a celebration of good harvest.The delicacies include Chura, Gur(jaggery), various sweets made of til (Sesame seeds) such as Tilkut,Tilwa,Maska etc. ,curd , milk and seasonal vegetables.Kite flying festivals are also organized , albeit on a small scale.

On 15th January, it is celebrated as Makraat ( in some parts of the state) when people relish special Khichri(Dal-Rice replete with cauliflower,peas and potatoes).


In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh this festival of Sankrant is known by the name ‘Sakarat’ and is celebrated with great pomp & merriment accompanied by a lot of sweets.

Coastal regions:

In the coastal regions, it is a harvest festival dedicated to Lord Indra.


Celebrations in Goa closely resemble to that in Maharashtra. The men hardly take part in the celebrations but it is the women folk who celebrate 'haldi-kumkum' One of the characteristic of Goa’s varied culture has always been it’s unique ways of celebrating festivals. An ideal way to kick off this series would be to highlight the way Goa celebrates “Makar Sankranti”, the festival that comes at the beginning of the year, in the month of January.

“Makar Sankranti” is celebrated all over the country (though may be with different names), on 14th of January every year. While north India calls it “Lohri”, and celebrate by distributing sugarcane juice and sesame sweets, the south celebrates it as “Pongal”, celebrating the harvest, decorating cows and bulls and cooking the first harvest rice in different ways. Some parts of India also see Sankranti accompanied with Kite festival, by having community kite-flying competitions.

Goa too has it’s unique way of celebrating Makar Sankranti, in pomp and gaiety. The festival season starts on 14th January, on the Makar Sankranti day (the day when sun transits from Tropic of Cancer to Tropic of Capricorn). Preserving the core rituals of this festival, the celebrations start by preparing and distributing sesame sweets, Laddoos made of Sesame and Jaggery, and the famous symbol of Sankranti – ‘Tilgul’, sugar-coated sesame seeds. But the festival just doesn’t end here. This is actually, only the beginning!!

Over the period from the Makar Sankranti day to the Ratha Saptami (the seventh day of the bright half of Magh in hindu calendar), married women throughout Goa celebrate what is called as the “Haldi Kumkum”. “Haldi Kumkum” can be organized by married women on any day of their convenience within this period. This is the day, when she dons new clothes and jewelry, and invites other married women among friends, relatives and neighbours. The ritual is to exchange any gifts in the form of house-hold articles or grocery items depending on one’s budget. The exchange of gifts is also accompanied by serving Tilgul and Sesame Laddoos.

Though Haldi Kumkum, is primarily for married women, the children don’t go empty handed, as they too get Laddoos, sweets and candies. The enthusiasm with which women celebrate Haldi Kumkum is praiseworthy. They dress with their best attires and jewelry every evening, and visit their friends and relatives. Some women try to be innovative in exchanging the gifts, and come up with beautiful new gift ideas. Some women go a stretch ahead, and make Haldi Kumkum as a get-together for her friends and other close family members, serving good food and snacks.

Haldi Kumkum is even bigger when it comes to newly married women. Again, there is a unique way of celebrating Haldi Kumkum for new married. It is a custom for a newly married woman to distribute coconut, and a small replica of earthen pot called as "Chirki", during her first Haldi Kumkum.

It is believed that Haldi Kumkum was started as a result of an attempt of boosting the social-bonding of women in the olden days when they were confined to the four walls of their houses. It was during this season, when they had a reason to visit and meet other women in the locality, thus creating a feeling of congeniality amongst their neighbourhood. The ritual of having get-togethers and sharing gifts during Sankranti season is also seen in Maharashtra, but the passion and zeal with which Goan women celebrate this ritual of is perhaps the mark of this festival in Goa. The enthusiasm of Goan women has made Haldi Kumkum one of the major festivals of Goa, and will continue to be one in the coming years.


This is one of the major festivals in the state of Gujarat. It is a two day festival here.

14 January is Uttarayan
15 January is Vasi-Uttarayan(stale Uttarayan)

Gujaratis keenly await this festival to fly kites. In India the generic name for a kite is 'Patang'. These kites are made of special light-wight kite paper and bamboo and are mostly rhombus shaped with central spine and a single bow.

In Gujarat, before the actual day of Makar sankranti, about the end of December, kids and young people start enjoying Uttarayan. Undhiyu (mixed winter vegetable) and chikkis (made from til (sesame), peanuts and jaggery) are the special festival recipes savoured on this day.


This is the Suggi or harvest festival for farmers of Kaveri basin of Karnataka. On this auspicious day, young females (kids & teenagers) wear new clothes to visit near and dear ones with a Sankranti offering in a plate, and exchange the same with other families. This ritual is called "Ellu Birodhu". Here the plate would normally contain "Ellu" (white sesame seeds) mixed with fried groundnuts, neatly cut dry coconut & fine cut bella(Jaggery). The mixture is called "Ellu Bella". The plate will also contain sugar candy moulds of various shapes (Sakkare Acchu) with a piece of sugarcane.'Yellu-Bella' is normally distributed by women. There is a saying in Kannada "Yellu bella thindu olle maathadi" which means 'Eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good'. This signifies the harvest of the season, since sugarcane is predominant in these parts.

In some parts of Karnataka, a newly married woman is required to give away bananas for a period of five years to married women(muthaidhe) from the first year of her marriage, but increase the number of bananas in multiples of five. There is also a tradition of some households giving away red berries "Yalchi Kai" along with the above.

Another important ritual is display of cows and cattle in colourful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession. They are also made to cross a pyre. This ritual is common in rural Karnataka and is called "Kichchu Haisodhu."


Makara Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimala where the Makara Jyothi is visible followed by the Makara Vilakku celebrations. The 40 days anushthana by the devotees of Ayyappan ends on this day in Sabarimala with a big festival.

Makaravillakku At Sabarimala Festival:

Makara Vilakku Pooja is a seven-day festival conducted annually in the famous Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala. The festival begins on the auspicious day of Makara Sankranthi, the day on which the sun is in summer solstice (vernal equinox). This is also the first day of the Malayalese month of Makaram. Makara Vilakku Pooja commemorates the day on which idol of Lord Ayyappa or Dharma Sastha was enshrined in the temple and is the most important event to be conducted at Sabarimala. Thousands of devotees gather to participate in the celebrations of Makara Vilakku every year. Mandala Pooja festival extends to 41 days prior to Makara Sankranthi.

Importance of Sabarimala Shrine:

Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala is the most sacred pilgrimage centre for the people of Kerala. Presiding deity of Sabarimala shrine is Lord Ayyappa known as Dharma Sastha, a symbol of unity between Vaishnavites and Saivites. This is so because, Ayappan is said to be born of union between Lord Vishnu and Shiva when the former took the avatar of Mohini, the seductress. Shiva succumbed to the charms of Mohini and Ayappa was born out of this union. Hence Ayappa is also called 'Hari Hara Putra' where 'Hari' is Vishnu, 'Hara' is Shiva and 'Putra' means son. No wonder, Sabarimala attracts lakhs of devotees from across the country particularly, southern states of India every year.

What makes the shrine so much more interesting is the rugged terrain on which it is located. The spirit of the thousands of devotees must be saluted who walk this terrain on foot as no other means of transport function in the rough stretches of Western Ghats where Sabarimala is located. Pilgrims have to make their way through the dense forests housing wild animals. For the lovers of adventure, there is a mandatory, 5 km stretch from Pamba to the shrine which can be passed only by trekking. Pilgrimage to Sabarimala requires a lot of prior preparations and is not advisable on all times. It is open only from November to January.

Ceremonies and Celebrations during Makar Villaku:

One very important ceremony of Makara Villaku is the bringing of deity's jewellery, Thirivabharanam from the Pandalam Palace, three days prior to Makara Sankranthi. The sacred jewelry is kept in a box and is brought in a royal procession. Thousands of devotees line up on either side of the route for a glimpse of the box, which is carried by a priest, or oracle on his head. The oracle moves hysterically oblivious of the presence of thousands of people. He dances, but the box remains on his head as if it gets glued on his head. Procession halts at a few temples en route and reaches Sabaripettam in the evening of Makara Sankranthi. It then moves towards Sannidhanam amidst music, dazzling lights and lot of revelry. A strange phenomenon occurs at this time. A kite appears all of a sudden and starts hovering around the box. The incidence is well received by the devotees who get filled with joy.

The jewelery consists of a diamond crown, gold bracelets and necklaces studded with precious gems, Lord's swords, silver arrows and gold images of elephant, horse and leopard. Thousands gather for that dazzling glimpse of a fully ornamented deity.

The other spectacular event is the appearance of 'Makarajyothi' in the north-east horizon on Ponnambala Medu. Chants of 'Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa' reverberate as the devotees turn ecstatic on the strange occurrence.

Makara Vilakku poojas and ceremonies are performed on the 'Manimandapa' (sacred platform) near the Devi shrine where a picture of Sastha riding on a leopard's back is depicted. After the pooja, Malikappurath Amma is mounted on an elephant's back and carried in a procession comprising of torchbearers, drummers, buglers etc. to Pathinettampadi. The procession halts for sometime and shouts a call for Vettavili (hunting) and returns after circumabulating the main temple.

Festivities continue for seven days and culminate with 'Guruthi'. In this offerings are made to the Lord. The temple is vacated after Guruthi. Nobody remains inside as a tradition.

On the last day of the Makara Vilakku celebrations, which is Makaram 5th morning, a 'Ganapati Homam' is conducted at the temple. Later the Thiruvabharanams are removed. After performing some more rituals the procession makes its return journey along with the Thiruvabharanam.


In Maharashtra on the Makar Sankranti day people exchange multi-colored tilguls made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. Gul-polis(jaggery stuffed flat bread) are offered for lunch. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying – ‘til-gul ghya, god god bola’ meaning ‘accept these tilguls and speak sweet words’. The under-lying thought in the exchange of tilguls is to forget the past ill-feelings and hostilities and resolve to speak sweetly and remain friends.

This is a special day for the women in Maharashtra when married women are invited for a get-together called ‘Haldi-Kunku’(turmeric & kumkum) and given gifts such as utensil, clothes, etc., which the woman of the house purchases on that day


This is one of the major festivals in the state of Rajasthan. It is known as "Makar Sakrat" in the Rajasthani language. This day is celebrated with sweets like Ghevar, Til-paati, Gajak, kheer etc.. Although traditionally flying kites is not observed as a part of this festivals, nowadays flying kites can be seen in some cities of Rajasthan. People invite friends and relatives to their home for special festival meals (called as "Sakrat Bhoj").

Uttar Pradesh:

In Hindu Mythology this is the first of the big bathing days. Over two million people gather at their respective sacred places for this holy bathing such as Allahabad, Haridwar and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

Kite flying is an inevitable part of the festival in Uttar Pradesh, as with many states of India such as Gujarat and Maharashtra. Like other places in India, the references to Til (Sesame seeds) and Gud (Jaggery) are also found in the songs sung on this day

Meethe GUD me mil gaya TIL,

Udi PATANG aur khil gaye DIL,

Jeevan me bani rahe SUKH aur SHANTI,


Kumaon (Uttarakhand):

In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand Makar Sankranti is celebrated with great gusto. According to the Hindu religious texts, on the day of Uttarayani also called Ghughuti in Kumaon, the sun enters the Zodiacal sign of 'Makar' (Capricon) from the Zodiacal sign of the Kark (Cancer), i.e. from this day onwards the sun becomes 'Uttarayan' or it starts moving to the north. It is said that from this day, which signals a change of season, the migratory birds start returning to the hills. On Makar Sankranti people give Khichadi (a mixture of pulses and rice) in charity, take ceremonial dips in holy rivers, participate in the Uttarayani fairs and celebrate the festival of Ghughutia or Kale Kauva. During the festival of Kale Kauva (literal translation 'black crow') people make sweetmeats out of sweetened flour (flour and gur) deep fried in ghee, shape them like drums, pomegranates, knives, swords etc. They are strung togather and worn as necklace-in the middle of which an oragne in fixed. Early in the morning children wear these necklaces and sing "Kale Kauva.." to attract crows and other birds and offer them portions of these necklaces, as a token of welcome for all the migratory birds, who are now coming back after their winter sojourn in the plains. Wearing garlands of the above eatables the children come out calling the crows with following song on their lips:

Kale Kale,

bhol bate aile bor puwa

Khale Ie Kauva bara,

mai ke de sunu gharo

Ie Kauva dhal,

mai ke de sunu thai.

काले कौवा काले घुघुति माला खाले

ले कौवा बड़ा मकें दे सुणो घड़ा

ले कौवा ढाल मकें दे सुणो थाल

(come dear crow, come daily you will enjoy eating bara and puwa. Take the bara and give me a pitcher full of gold. Take the shield and give me a golden plate.)


In Punjab where December and January are the coldest months of the year, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Makar Sankranti and is celebrated as Lohri. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together. The following day, which is Sankrant, is celebrated as Maghi. Bathing in any river in the early hours on Maghi is important. Hindus light lamps with sesame oil as this is supposed to give prosperity and drive away all sins. The Punjabis dance their famous dance known as "Bhangra". Then they sit down and eat the sumptuous food that is specially prepared for the occasion. It is traditional to eat "kheer", rice cooked in milk and sugar.

Tamil Nadu:

It is a four day festival in Tamil Nadu:

Day 1 - Bhogi Pandigai (Bhogi)
Day 2 - Thai Pongal
Day 3 - Maattu Pongal
Day 4 - Kaanum Pongal

The festival is celebrated four days from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of the Tamil month Thai.

The first day of festival is Bhogi. It is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials, by setting them on fire, marking the end of the old and the emergence of the new.

The second day of festival is Thai Pongal or simply Pongal. It is the main day of the festival, falling on the first day of the Tamil month Thai. It is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new pots, which are later topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins early in the morning and allowing it to boil over the vessel. This tradition gives Pongal its name. The moment the rice boils over and bubbles out of the vessel, the tradition is to shout of "Ponggalo Ponggal!" and blowing the sangu (a conch), a custom practiced during the festival to announce it was going to be a year blessed with good tidings. Then New boiled rice is offered to the Nature during sunrise, a gesture which symbolises thanks to the sun and nature for providing prosperity. It is later served to the people present in the house for the ceremony. People also prepare savories and sweets such as vadai, murukku, payasam and visit each other and exchange greetings.

The third day of festival is Maattu Pongal. It is for offering thanks to cattle, as they help farmer in different ways for agriculture. On this day the cattle are decorated with paint, flowers and bells. They are allowed to roam free and fed sweet rice and sugar cane. Some people decorate the horns with gold or other metallic covers. In some places, Jallikattu, or taming the wild bull contest, is the main event of this day and this is mostly seen in the villages.

The fourth day of the festival is Kaanum Pongal (the word kaanum means "to view"). During this day people visit their relatives, friends to enjoy the festive season. This day is a day to thank relatives and friends for their support in the harvest. It started as a farmers festival, called as Uzhavar Thirunaal in Tamil.(Kolam) decorations are made in front of the house during Thai Pongal festival.


In Odisha People prepare 'makar chaula(uncooked newly harvested rice, banana, coconut, jaggery, sesame, rasagola, khoi and chhena puddings) for naivedya to gods and goddesses.The withdrawing winter entails change in food habits & intake of nourishing and rich food. Therefore this festival also holds immense scientific significance. According to the Sun's movement, the days from this day onwards become lengthy and warmer and so the Sun-God is worshipped as a great benefactor. Makar Mela is observed at Dhabaleswar in Cuttack, Hatakeshwar at Atri in Puri, Makar Muni temple in Balasore and near various deities in each district of Orissa. In the temple of Lord Jagannath this festival is observed as 'Uttarayana Yatra'. In Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, kalahandi, koraput and Sundargarh where the tribal population is more, the festival is celebrated with great joy. They have been celebrating this festival with great enthusiasm. They sing, dance and enjoy. Many tribals in our country start their New Year from the day of Sankranti by lighting bonfires, dancing and eating their particular dishes sitting together. The Bhuya tribals of Orissa have their Maghyatra in which small home-made articles are put for sale.

West Bengal:

In West Bengal, Sankranti, also known as Poush Sankranti after the Bengali month in which it falls, is celebrated as a harvest festival Poush Parbon. The freshly harvested paddy along with the date palm syrup in the form of Khejurer Gur and Patali is used in the preparation of a variety of traditional Bengali sweets made with rice flour, coconut, milk and 'khejurer gur' (palm jaggery) and known as Pithey. All sections of society participate in a three-day begins on the day before Sankranti and ends on the day after. The Goddess Lakshmi is usually worshipped on the day of Sankranti. In the Himalayan regions of Darjeeling, the festival is known as Magey Sakrati. It is distinctly associated with the worship of Lord Shiva. Traditionally, people were required to take a bath before sunrise and then commence their pooja. The food that is consumed consists primarily of sweet potatoes and various yams.

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