Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Makar Sankranti Festival

Tithi (Date)
This festival, unlike other Hindu festivals, is not dependent on the position of the moon, but on position of the sun. On this day, the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn. To compensate for the difference that occurs due to the revolution around the sun, every eighty years the day of sankrant is postponed by one day. In the present period Makar-sankrant falls on 14th January.
Sankranti is considered a Deity. According to a legend Sankranti killed a demon named Sankarasur.The day followed by Makar sankrant is called Kinkrant or Karidin. On this day, the female deity (devi) slayed the demon Kinkarasur.
Information on Sankranti is available in the Panchang: The Panchang (Hindu Almanac) provides information on the form, age, clothing, direction of movement etc. of Sankranti. This information is appropriate to the changes taking place in Her according to time. He who is touched by Goddess Sankranti gets destroyed.
The northward movement of the sun begins on this day. The period from Karkasankrant (the passage of the sun into the zodiac sign of Cancer) to Makarsankrant is called the dakshinayan. A person who dies in the dakshinayan period has a greater chance of going to Yamalok (southward region), than one who dies during uttarayan (northward revolution).
Importance from the point of view of spiritual practice: On this day, from sunrise to sunset, the environment has more chaitanya (Divine conscious-ness); hence those doing spiritual practice can benefit from this chaitanya.
Methods of celebration

Benefit of highest merit acquired by a Holy dip on the day of Makarsankrant: The time from sunrise to sunset on Makar-sankrant is auspicious. A Holy dip during this period carries special significance. Those who take a Holy dip in the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krushna and Kaveri at the Holy places situated on the banks of these rivers acquire the highest merit.

Offering: Importance of making an offering during an auspicious period: The period from Makarsankrant to Rathsaptami is an auspicious period. Any donation and meritorious deeds in this period prove more fruitful.

Substances offered: An offering of new vessels, clothing, food, sesame seeds, pot of sesame seeds, jaggery, a cow, a horse, gold or land should be made depending on the capability. On this day, married women also make some offering. They take things from unmarried girls and give them sesame seeds and jaggery in return. Married women organise a ceremony of haldi-kumkum (applying vermilion and turmeric to the forehead) and gift articles to other married women.
3. Importance of haldi-kumkum ceremony performed by married women on sankranti : Performing haldi-kumkum (Turmeric powder and saffron) ceremony is in a way invoking the waves of dormant Adi-shakti in the Universe to get activated. This helps in creating impression of Sagun (Materialised) devotion on the mind of an individual and enhances his bhav (Spiritual emotion) unto God.
A. Five steps in haldi-kumkum ceremony
1. Applying haldi-kumkum : Applying haldi-kumkum to a suvasini (A married woman whose husband is alive) activates the dormant Principle of Sri Durgadevi in her and bestows well-being to the applier suvasini.
2. Applying perfume : Fragrant particles emitting from the perfume please the Principle of the Deity and bestow well-being to the applier suvasini within a shorter period.
3. Sprinkling rose-water : The fragrant waves emitted by the rose-water activate the waves of the Deity and purifies the environment, and the suvasini who sprinkles it gets greater benefit of the activated Sagun Principle of the Deity.
4. Offering a gift : A gift offered is always supported by the end of the pallu of the sari. Offering a gift to another suvasini amounts to surrendering to the divinity in her, through sacrifice of body, mind and wealth. Giving support of the end of pallu of the sari means leaving attachment to even the clothes worn on the body and thus learning to overcome body awareness. Since the period of sankranti is favourable for sadhana, a gift given during this period pleases the Deities quickly and they bestow the donor suvasini with the desired  fruit.
4 A. What should be gifted ? : Instead of gifting non-dharmik commodities like soap, plastic items etc., objects complementary to Spirituality and are indicators of a married life, such as incense-sticks, ubtan (Fragrant herbal powder), religious and Holy texts, pictures of Deities, CDs on spiritual topics etc. should be gifted.
Small mud pots: The festival of sankrant requires small mud pots called sugad (in the Marathi language). Vermilion and turmeric powder is applied to the pots and a thread is tied to them. They are filled with carrots, jujube fruits, sugarcane pieces, pods, cotton, chickpeas, sesame seeds with jaggery, vermilion, turmeric etc. Five pots are placed on a wooden seat, rangoli is drawn around the seat and worshipped. Of these, three are gifted to married women, one is offered to the tulsi plant and one is retained.
Use of sesame seeds: Maximum use of sesame seeds is made during sankrant festival. For example, bathing with water containing sesame seeds and eating and distributing tilgul (a sweet made from sesame seeds), offering sesame to Brahmans, lighting lamps of sesame oil in a temple of Lord Shiva and performing pitrushraddh (rite for the departed ancestors) in which an offering of sesame seeds is made.

Importance of sesame seeds - Using sesame seeds eliminates sins: On this day those who apply sesame seed oil and utane to the body, bathe in water mixed with sesame seeds, drink water mixed with sesame seeds, perform a sacrificial fire, make an offering of sesame seeds and make similar use of sesame seeds, are liberated of all sins.
Importance according to Ayurved: Since sankrant falls in winter, consuming sesame seeds is beneficial.

Importance according to Spirituality:
1. Since sesame seeds have a greater ability to absorb and emit sattva frequencies, consuming tilgul helps improve spiritual practice. Distributing tilgul to one another results in an exchange of the sattva component.
2. Using sesame seeds in shraddh prevents demons from bringing obstacles during the rite.
Forbidden acts!

During the period of sankrant, brushing teeth, talking harshly, cutting trees or grass and acts provoking sexual urges should be avoided.
Do not fly kites!

Today, when the Nation and Dharma are in peril, flying kites for the sake of entertainment is akin to, 'Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burnt'. If the time spent on flying kites is used for the development of the Nation, it will make it progress faster; and if used for spiritual practice and missions related to Dharma, then society and the individual will benefit.
(Reference:  Holy Festivals, Religious Festivals and Vowed Religious Observances, compiled by H.H. Dr. Jayant B. Athavale and Dr. Mrs. Kunda Athavale, published by the Sanatan Sanstha.)

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