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Traditions & Customs of Makar Sankranti

Traditionally, this period is considered an auspicious time and the veteran Bhishma of Mahabharata chose to die during this period. Bhishma fell to the arrows of Arjuna. With his boon to choose the time of his death, he waited on a bed of arrows to depart from this world only during this period. It is believed that those who die in this period have no rebirth.

For the people in the Indo Gangetic plain, the day begins with taking dips in the Ganges and offering water to the Sun-God. The dip is said to purify the self and bestow 'punya'. Special puja is offered as a thanksgiving for good harvest.
 
Til and rice are two important ingredients of this festival. In the rice-eating belt of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, people have a special rice-centric meal on this day.

In Makar Sankranti, women prepare laddus or other sweets of Til and Gur and offer them to friends & relatives. It symbolizes a 'Well-being Prayer for all' gets manifested in action & deeds.

Makar Sankranti Traditions

Makar Sankranti is celebrated every year on January 14 all over India following the Hindu Solar Calendar. On this day, the sun begins its Northward journey leaving the Tropic of Cancer to enter the Tropic of Capricorn. The word 'Makar' in fact means Capricorn. 'Sankranti' literally means the entry of the sun from one Rashi to another.

It is celebrated all over India and also in Nepal. However, every region differs in the way in which it celebrates the occasion as the traditions, customs and significance vary from region to region.

According to the Jaimini Rishi, 12 hours and 46 minutes pre- and post sankranti are considered sacred. During this time span, the cow, edible food, money, vehicles, clothes, flowers or grass are donated to Brahmins, the poor and ascetics; resulting in infinite punya to the giver.

During Makar Sankranti, it is a tradition for thousands of pilgrims to bathe in sacred Prayag in Allahabad, at the confluence of the three sacred rivers: Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, popularly known as the Triveni Sangam.

Uttar Pradesh

In Uttar Pradesh this utsav is known as Khichadi. On this day Khichadi and sesame are donated to the poor. Kite flying and holy bath form most important parts of the festival in Uttar Pradesh as well.

Punjab

In Punjab, this day is celebrated as Lohri. People offer sugarcane juice, jaggery and sesame seeds to each other. A huge holi (bonfire) is kindled in which rice and sweets are offered. The Punjabis dance their traditional dance called Bhangra. It is also traditional to eat 'Kheer' (milk with rice and sugar) on this day.


Rajasthan

In Rajasthan, married women offer 'pranams' to their mother-in-laws as well as sesame balls, ghebar, and wheat laddu with a rupee coin.

Gujarat

The festival is called Uttarayana in Gujarat and lasts for two days. In Gujarat, grain from the new harvest is used to cook Khichdo, a mixture of grains and pulses; wheat, moong, Indian bean, Chickpea bean, Jowar and gram dal. ‘Undhiyu’ which is a spicy, baked mix of winter vegetables is also savoured on this day.

Kite flying forms an integral part of the festival with competitions  held in major cities like Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat. When people cut the other's kite they yell 'Kaipoche' (cut your kite) or 'E Lapet' (pull back the strings).

Cows and trees are offered pujan since man’s existence depends on them. People forget and forgive ill will. It is an occasion to consolidate affection, goodwill and friendship among firends and relatives. For this, they ritually offer each other til guls or sweet balls made of sesame seed and jaggery.

Maharashtra

In Maharashtra, married women celebrate the 'haldi kunku' by anointing each other with scented waters, exchanging turmeric and vermillion. In many places, they also exchange Sugad which are clay pots containing sugarcane sticks, berries, carrot pieces, puffed rice, turmeric, cloth and cotton. Five
Women wear a particular black saree called the Chandrakala which is embossed with starsand and small crescent moons. It is one of those occasions where wearing black is actually regarded as auspicious. 'Halwyache daagine' or ornaments made out of halwa (a sweet pudding of sugar-coated sesame) are offered to the newly wed bride at the traditional 'Sunache Tilavan' which is the first welcome to the daughter-in-law.

A 'Bornahan' is organised for new born babies which involves the baby’s first bath with 'ber' or pieces of sugarcane, rice and sweets welcoming the first spring of his/her life.

The traditional food items during the festival are 'til gul' which consists of sesame and jaggery and 'gulaachi poli/bhakri' (round thick rotis made of sesame and jaggery dusted with sesame and crowned with butter.

People exchange til guls or tilache ladoo and greet each other saying 'til-gul ghya, god god bola' which means 'accept these sweets, and speak sweet words.' It is a sign of goodwill and friendship.

Assam

Makar Sankranti is called Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu in Assam and is celebrated as a harvest festival in Assam with the feasting lasting for nearly a week. On the eve of the festival, people create makeshift huts from bamboo, leaves and thatch called Meji near a river.  People spend the night in the hut where they have a feast for the entire community; they sing Bihu songs, beat drums and play games. The following morning, they take a bath and then burn the huts. While the hut is burning, they throw rice cakes and betel nuts into it and offer prayers to the God of Fire thus marking the end of the harvesting year. There are certain traditional games associated with the festival such as buffalo fighting and pot-breaking (tekeli bhonga). The traditional instruments played by the Assamese on this festival include Dhol, taal, pepa, toka amongst others.

Bihar-Jharkhand

In Bihar and Jharkhand, the traditional name for the festival is Sakraat or Khichdi.(as Khichdi is made in a very rich and elaborate manner on this festival.)  As in other parts of the country, the people take a holy bath and make offerings to God. They throw til into the fire and eat Dahi-chuda with Kohada or red pumpkin Bujiya and laddoos made of til. In the evening, they eat Khichdi made of rice, papad, ghee and pickle (khichdi ke 4 yaar, chokha, papad, ghee, achaar. Some prefer to add side dishes of chatni, etc.

West Bengal

In West Bengal, the festival is celebrated as Poush Sankranti. The traditional Bengali sweets contain date palm syrup and freshly harvested paddy in the form of Patali and Khejurer Gur. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped on this day. Most people take a dip in the Ganga Sagar which is a point where the River Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal.

Tamil Nadu

The Tamil month of 'Thai' begins on Makar Sankranti, known as Surya Pongal. Women awaken early to draw artistic Kolams (rangolis) outside their homes. Rice powder is used to design them. The belief is that the insects and other organisms feed on this rice flour and so do not infect the stored grain and other raw foodstuffs in the house.

The fervor is especially evident in the villages. The farmers harvest paddy only after performing pujan of Surya Deva or Sun God, earth and their sickles, with sandalwood paste. The fresh rice is brought home and cooked in milk, with jaggery and moong dal in a new mud pot known as panai , outside the house. A sprig of turmeric root is tied around the panai, since turmeric is considered auspicious. Two sugar cane stalks are also kept by the panai. Since, it is sweet, this Pongal is also called Sarkarai Pongal.

Pongal means 'to overflow'. The underlying sentiment is that one’s home brims with wealth and prosperity. The Pongal is then offered on a banana leaf, along with sugarcane, grain, sweet potatoes to Surya Deva and Ganeshji, after their pujan with coconut and lighted camphor. Prayers are offered to Surya Deva and the sanctified Pongal is then distributed to everyone.

In Madurai, Tanjore and Tiruchirapalli Pongal is known as Jellikattu. Bundles of money are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls and villagers then dare to take these off the horns!

Andhra Pradesh

Here, the festival is celebrated for four days, starting with Bhogi, followed by Makar Sankranti, Kanuma and Mukkanuma. On Bhogi, people discard old objects and light a bonfire of wooden articles that are no longer useful. The sentiment behind this ritual is to do away with vices, and attachment to material things. The sacrificial fire is called "Rudra Gita Gyan" Yagya and it signifies realization, purification and transformation of the soul by inculcating divine virtues.

Children less than three year old are showered with a fruit called ‘"Regi Pandlu", an Indian jujube fruit to protect them from evil eye. On the following day is Makar Sankranti, which is also called  "Pedda Panduga" (literally, 'the big festival'). Everyone wears new clothes, make offerings to ancestors and God. A number of animals are worshipped, especially the cows. Young girls offer food to birds, animals and fish. Teachers bestow gifts and blessings on disciples or students, employers appraise their work force and brothers visit homes of their married sisters with gifts.

Traditionally, a form of rangoli called 'Muggus' are created in front of the homes and decorated with flowers, colours and sparklers. Travelling is discouraged on this day as it is regarded a Day of re-union’ with family.

The following day is Kanuma Panduga which is an integral part of the culture but not widely celebrated. Most people in Coastal Andhra do not consume meat on first three days of the festival and do so only on the fourth day which is Mukkanuma. The people from Telangana observe Bhogi and Makar Sankranti only. The traditional food for the festival includes rice cooked with sesame seeds, Appalu (a sweet prepared from jaggery and rice), Dapplam (a dish prepared with pumpkin) and Ariselu.

There are adventurous games played in different regions. Cock-fights in Andhra, Bull fighting in Tamil Nadu or the famous Elephant Mela in Kerala are some games involving illegal betting which have been carried down for years in the name of 'tradition.'

In South India, Haridas, a worshipper of Lord Vishnu starts off early in the morning with a colourfully dressed cow chanting hymns for Lord Vishnu and visits the nearby homes. Custom has it that he should not interact with anyone, simply keep singing songs in praise of Lord Vishnu when he goes to any house.
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