Saying goodbye to 2020, the roughest year of the century, the world is now greeting 2021 with great hopes and sanguinity. Covid-19 is still strong but people have found ways of enjoying festivities even amidst the global pandemic. One such occasion of celebration is the approaching festival of Makar Sankranti, which is joyously celebrated across India. This year, it will be celebrated on January 15.
Why is Makar Sakranti celebrated?
Makar Sankranti festival, celebrated by Hindus, is dedicated to Lord Surya or the Sun God as they pray and express their gratitude for fortune and prosperity. The devotees thank Surya for blessing the planet with his warmth which enables life on earth. This festival marks the sun’s shift in its journey towards the north and the end of the winter solstice and the beginning of summer solstice. It marks the first day when the sun transitions into the Capricorn, also known as ‘Makar.’ The festival got its name by this movement of sun into ‘Makara Rashi‘ or the ‘Zodiac of Capricorn.’
Since the festival indicates the beginning of summer, the farmers start preparing to sow seeds of summer crops and worship Lord Surya to bless their new harvests. One of the most unique features of this festival is that it follows the solar cycle while most other Hindu festivals are celebrated according to the lunar year.
Mythologies and Legends surrounding Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti is not simply about harvesting season but it also has some mythologies surrounding it. Sankranti is deemed as a ‘deity’. As per a legend, the deity – Sankranti executed a devil named Sankrasur. The day following Makar Sankranti is known as Karidin or Kinkarasur as the deity slew the demon on this day. This embarks the onset of a six month auspicious period of Uttarayana.
How is the Makar Sankranti celebrated?
The first festival of the year, Makar Sankranti is a festival filled with happiness, leisure, chikkis and refreshing thandais. People wear new clothes, make delicious treats, usually from til and jaggery and distribute among others. The sweet delicacies reflect the significance of peace and harmony and that people must share joy and celebrate together despite their differences.
The prayers devoted to Lord Surya are made at Prayagraj where the rivers Ganga and Yamuna meet. The devotees bath in the holy rivers to pray and to wash away their sins as they believe that holy water rinses off their wrongdoings.
The festival is marked by festivities like carnivals, bonfires, dancing, feasting and kite flying. These jestful activities are followed by philanthropic deeds of charity and donation as people believe that good deeds done during the bright period of Uttarayana are more valuable.
Reflecting Unity in Diversity
Although dominantly a Hindu festival, Makar Sankranti is celebrated with great passion in all over India. Different States celebrate the festival in different ways, thus reflecting the diversity of Indian culture.
In Punjab & Haryana
In the states of Haryana and Punjab, the festival is preceded by Lohri, which is celebrated a day before Sankranti. Gathered groups of people build a bonfire during the night and throw til and puffed rice in the blazing fire. This is accompanied by enthusiastic dancing, bhangra and feasting.
In Uttar Pradesh & Bihar
In the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it is also known as ‘Khichari‘ as people make khichdi to celebrate Makar Sankranti. Offerings of khichdi, urad, rice, warm clothes and blankets are also made. The Magh fair which begins from Makar Sankranti and continues for a month is also observed in Allahabad, at the convergence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. The famous Kumbh Mela is also celebrated here every twelve years.
In Maharashtra, married women donate cotton, oil and salt to other married women in their first Sankranti. In West Bengal, where the festival is known as Pongal, the harvests are celebrated for four days and donations of til are made. In Assam, the festival is known as Magh Bihu.
In Southern India
Apart from these states, the festival is celebrated in many other states including Goa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Rajasthan. The different kinds of celebrations exhibit the diversity of Indian culture. Even though each state has its own distinctive customs and traditions, the essence of the festival and the spirit with which it is celebrated remains unaltered. This festival gives people an opportunity to show their gratitude towards the Sun God as, without sun, life would not be possible. It also prompts people to contribute to philanthropic activities.
What is Makar Sankranti without kite flying? The thrill of ascending one’s kite high in the sky while cutting other kites’ thread or manjha, followed by ecstatic hootings of ‘Kai Po Che’ is a delight that can’t be put simply into words. It is a thrill that everyone must experience. The blue sky adorned with colourful splashes of kites is a sight worth witnessing.
It is believed that kite flying was brought to India by Muslims from Persia. The royal monarchs and nawabs used this activity as a recreational sport and as a way of exhibiting their skills. Later, this activity trickled down to the common masses as well and has now become a fun activity in which everyone can partake.
International Kite Festival, Gujarat
The International kite festival of Gujarat is well known to not just Indians but foreigners as well. Ahmedabad, the commercial hub of Gujarat has been hosting this festival since 1989. The history of kite flying is described very exquisitely in the Kite Museum in Ahmedabad. Tourists from all over India as well as from other countries like Japan, Italy, United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Indonesia, Brazil, Australia, Malaysia, China, Singapore, France come to Gujarat for this occasion. Approximately, 8-10 Million people participate in the festival every year.
Months before the festival, people start making kites and the glass-thread or manjhas. Various kinds of innovative kites are made as the festival is not just about flying kites but people also exhibit their artistic skills. The festival reflects kite-making traditions from various countries. It is celebrated mostly in Sardar Patel Stadium or the police station in Ahmedabad.
Telangana International Kite Festival
This festival was first celebrated in 2016. It is celebrated in the parade grounds of Hyderabad and includes workshops on kite-making and many more cultural activities. Although it is not as well-known as the Kite Festival of Gujarat, this festival also garners a lot of attention from all over the world. People of all ages take delight in its celebration.
How will Covid-19 affect the festival this year?
The deadly Coronavirus which came uninvited to India last spring is still active all over India. Although the country is no longer under a stringent lockdown, it still has to follow many precautions to minimise the calamities of the pandemic. In order to keep the virus under control, the kite festival is cancelled by the state governments. Separate Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) regarding celebrations of the festival will be issued by the Home Department shortly.
Even though the large-scale celebrations are cancelled, the festival can still be enjoyed with families and close friends. The celebrations this year may not be as grandiose as before but the festival is bound to raise everyone’s spirits. The sky may not be as colourful as before but the happiness that comes with the festival can’t be affected so easily.