Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Makar Sankranti : Rituals & Legend behind it

Makar Sankranti is celebrated every year on 13th, 14th or 15th of January, when Sun enters into Capricorn from Sagittarius. Sun's Uttarayan cycle starts from this day. That's the reason it is called as Uttarayani also. Earth entering one zodiac sign from another is known as Sankranti. And entering Makar (Capricorn) is called Makar Sankranti.

There are numerous legends and myths which add to the importance of Makara Sankranti.

One of the most important myths is the death of Bhishma Pitamaha in the Mahabharata. Bhishma chose the Uttarayan period. (Bhisma had got a boon from his father that he will only die when he wishes.) It is believed that people who die during Uttarayana merges with the Brahman, thus ending the cycle of rebirth.

Legend also has it that Lord Vishnu buried Asuras on this day beneath the Mandara Mountain. It signifies the end of evil and the dawn of righteousness.

Another legend is that King Bhageeratha brought Ganges down into Patala on Makara Sankranti day. This was to get salvation to his ancestors who were cursed by Sage Kapila and turned into ashes. On this day millions of people take bath in the Ganges.Makara Sankranti is also an important bathing date during Kumbh Mela and Magh Mela.

Puranas state that on Makar Sankranti day, Surya visits Lord Shani. In mythology Lord Shani, is the son of Surya

Vedic Beliefs
In Vedic times, Uttarayan was known as Devayan and Dakshinayan as Pitriyan. It is believed that Gods themselves come down to earth to accept that is donated away to Bramhins on Makar Sankranti. Holy souls enter into heaven during Sun's Uttarayan movement. It is for this reason Makar Sankranti is known as Alok Parva as well. According to Hindu calendar, in the month of Poush, Gods go to sleep and therefore no auspicious works are advised in this month. But Gods awake in the month of Magh, starting from Makar Sankranti and all auspicious events like marriage etc. can be organized.

Makar Sankrati in different states
Makar Sankranti is celebrated differently in different states all across the India. A Variation on two counts- it's name as well as the way it is celebrated, is found when it comes to Makar Sankranti in India. In Bengal, the festival is synonymous with donating Til after taking bath. In Assam, it is celebrated as Bihu while as Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh. Til-Gul is distributed in Maharashtra on this day. People five Til and Gud to each other and say -

'तीळ गूळ घ्या आणि गोड़ गोड़ बोला'

meaning take Til and gud and speak sweet things.

It is celebrated as Lohdi in Punjab and Haryana. After the Sunset, people assemble to worship and Agni Devata, offering til, gud, rice etc. as ahuti. They exchange these things amongst themselves as well. Daughter-in-laws go to each-other's houses and sing festive songs. Lohdi has special significance for newly-married women and new-born kids.

Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Pongal in Tamilnadu. Generally, Pongal celebrations extend to three days. Garbage is collected and burnt on the first day while prayers are offered to Goddess Laxmi on the second day. On the third day, animals are worshipped. People take bath and prepare Khir in the open in the courtyard in the utensil made of clay, which is called Pongal. Prasad is offered to Sun God after that. Then, Khir as prasad is distributed. Special treatment is given to daughter and son-in-law on this day.

Sacred bath and Donations on Makar Sankranti

Taking bath and giving donations has special importance in Makar Sankranti. Traditionally, donations are given away after taking bath in a river and eating Khidri. Religious scriptures also emphasize upon bath, donation and religious jobs on this day. It has been said that donations given on Makar Sankranti comes back hundred times more in next birth. In the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, people bath collectively in sacred rivers like Ganga and give away things like til, gud, rice, etc. Giving woolen clothes and blankets to Bramhins has also special importance on this day.

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