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Makar Sankranti - Pongal - Lohri

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January 14, 2006 is Makar Sankranti day.

Sankranti means the day the Sun enters a new zodiac sign according to Hindu astrology. There is a Sankranti for every month of the year. "Makar" means Capricorn. Makar Sankranti means the day the Sun enters Capricorn. The reason why Makar Sankranti is celebrated more than any other is that it marks the day the Sun starts moving north and the auspicious half of the year characterised by increasing daylight begins.

Makar Sankranti is celebrated in regional festivals all over India. Some of the regional celebrations that take place on Jan 14th are

Lohri (Punjab)
Bhogali Bihu (Assam, Bengal)
Pongal (Tamil Nadu)
Bhogi (Andhra)
Makar Sankranti (Gujarat, UP and other northern states etc.)

Makar Sankranti falls on January 15 on leap years and January 14 on non-leap years. It is the only Hindu festival which is based on the solar calendar rather than the Lunar calendar.

In India Makar Sankranti is regarded as a very auspicious day. Traditionally it is regarded as good karma to greet the Sun with chants of Gayatri mantra at sunrise, use Til (Sesame seeds) in your food and fly a kite. Kites are flown for most of the day. At night special lantern kites with candles embedded are flown. The festival is celebrated by the flying of kites in most of northern India.

This festival is celebrated differently in different parts of the country yet the use of Til (Sesame) is found every where. Til or Sesame seed contain lot of oil which have a quality of softness in them. Therefore, firstly the use of Til in sweets is good for health and secondly being soft their exchange means exchange of love and tender feelings.

In Maharashtra on the Sankranti day people exchange multi coloured tilguds made from til (sesame seeds) and sugar and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. Til-polis are offered for lunch and these are Maharashtrian specialities. Maharashtrian women are proud of their excellence in preparing these delicacies. While exchanging tilguls as tokens of goodwill people greet each other saying "til-gul khaayaa, gud gud bola" meaning "eat 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 Kumkum" and are given gifts of utensils, which the woman of the house purchases on that day.

In Gujarat, Sankranti is observed more or less in the same manner as in Maharashtra but with a slight difference. In Gujarat there is the custom of giving gifts to relatives. The elders in the family give gifts to all the younger members of the family. The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy. This festival thus helps the maintenance of social relationships within the family and community.

In Punjab where December and January are the coldest months of the year, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankranti and which is celebrated as "LOHRI". Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together. On the following day, which is Sankranti, also known as MAGHI, the Punjabi's dance their famous Bhangra dance till they get exhausted. Then they sit down and eat the feast that is specially prepared for the occasion.

In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh the festival of Sankranti is known as "SUKARAT" or "SAKARAT" and is celebrated with great merriment accompanied by lot of sweets.

In Tamilnadu Sankranti is known by the name of "PONGAL", which takes its name from the surging of rice boiled in a pot of milk. This festival has more significance than even Diwali. It is very popular particularly amongst farmers. Rice and Lentils cooked together in ghee and milk is offered to the family deity after the ritual worship. In essence in the South this Sankranti is a "Puja" (worship) for the Sun God.

In Uttar Pradesh, on Sankranti day bathing is regarded as essential. A mass of humanity can be seen bathing in the Sangam at Prayagraj where the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati flow together. At this junction every year Kumbh Mela is held for full one month.

In Bengal every year a Mela is held at Ganga Sagar where the river Ganga is believed to have dived into the nether region and vivified the ashes of the sixty thousand ancestors of King Bhagirath. This mela is attended by a large number of pilgrims from East India.

The tribals start 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.

There is also a fair in the Western Ghats at Shabari Mala, where the temple of the Community Goddess is decorated with dazzling lights. The Goddess is worshipped by all. Every one participate in the Mela and enjoy together as if they belong to one single family. The experts think that this festival of Makar Sankranti comes to us from those olden times when the caste system did not exist in India as it emphasises our communal harmony.

Thus we see that this festival occupies a significant place in the cultural history of our country and symbolises the victory of ORDER over CHAOS and of Love over Hate.

Religious Significance:

1. The Puranas say that on this day Lord Sun visits the house of his son Shani, who is the swami of Makar Rashi. The father and son do not ordinarily get along nicely, but Lord Sun makes it a point to meet on this day. The father himself comes to his son's house, for a month. This day symbolized the importance of special relationship of father and son. It is the son who has the responsibility to carry forward his fathers dream and the continuity of the family.

2. From Uttarayana starts the `day' of Devatas, while dakshinayana is said to be the `night' of devatas, so most of the auspicious things are done during this time. Uttarayana is also called Devayana, and the next half is called Pitrayana.

3. It was on this day when Lord Vishnu ended the ever increasing terrorism of the Asuras by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandar Parvat. So this occasion also represents the end of negativities and beginning of an era of righteous living.

4. The great savior of his ancestors, Maharaj Bhagirath, did great Tapasya to bring Gangaji down on the earth for the redemption of 60,000 sons of Maharaj Sagar, who were burnt to ashes at the Kapil Muni Ashram, near the present day Ganga Sagar. It was on this day that Bhagirath finally did tarpan with the Ganges water for his unfortunate ancestors and thereby liberated them from the curse. After visiting the Paataal (below earth) for the redemption of the curse of Bhagirath's ancestors Gangaji finally merged in the Saagar (ocean). Even today a very big Ganga Saagar Mela is organized every year on this day at the confluence of River Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Lakhs take a dip in the water and do tarpan for their ancestors.

There is another spiritually symbolic aspect of this story. The 60,000 cursed son of Maharaj Sagar represent our thoughts, who become dull & dead-like because of uncultured & blind ambition. Redemption of such people is only by the waters of Gangaji, brought down from the Himalayas with great tapasya. This represents dedicated hard work to get the redeeming Brahma-Vidya, which alone enlightens, enthuses & enlivens the life of anyone.

5. Another well-known reference of this day came when the great grandsire of Mahabharata fame, Bhishma, declared his intent to leave his mortal coil on this day. He had the boon of Ichha-Mrityu (die when you choose to die) from his father, so he kept lying on the bed of arrows till this day and then left his mortal coil on Makar Sankranti day. It is believed that the person, who dies during the period of Uttarayana, becomes free from transmigration. So this day was seen as a sure-shot Good Luck day to start your journey or endeavors to the higher realms beyond.

How to Celebrate in General:

1. Get up early in the morning, before sunrise, have bath and be ready with water and flowers. Worship the rising Sun, by offering water, flowers with both the hands & then pray with folded hands by chanting the Gayatri Mantra and pray for knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment to rise in the similar way to greater & greater heights. Pray for blessings to live a dynamic, inspired & righteous life.

2. Do tarpan for your ancestors. Offer water to the ancestors while praying for their blessings. Resolve to redeem the pledges and pride of your forefathers. Live life in such a way that wherever your forefathers may be their head is held high by the life and deeds of their children.

3. Have a special session of Meditation, wherein you bring about the awareness of the self-effulgent subjective divinity. Affirm the greatest importance of your spiritual goal very clearly, and pray to God to bless you with the capacity to constantly revel in your true self. May the graph of your rise like the Uttarayana Sun. May there be greater 'Love & Light' in your life & the world.

4. Prepare laddus or other sweets of Til & Gur and offer them to your friends & relatives. See to it that your `Well-being Prayer for all' gets manifested in action & deeds.

5. Have the lunch of Khichiri. This stands for inculcating simplicity in your life & habits.

6. Give some Daan on this day to someone who truly deserves.

7. Visit your son at his place and give presents to the son and the daughter-in-law. If it is not possible to visit, then organize to send presents to them to express your love & affection to them. Work to properly cultivate the generation, which has to carry forward all the best you cherish & value.

Recipe For 'Til Gajak' (Sesame Candy):

A speciality of northern India, Gajak is a dry sweet, made of sesame seeds or 'til' as they are known in Hindi. It's 'til' cooked in sugar syrup and set in thin layers, that can be stored for months.

INGREDIENTS:

Sesame seeds or 'til'
Jaggery / sugar syrup

PREPARATION:

1. Heat sesame on low fire to roast.

2. Keep stirring continuously else it will splutter and fall out of the pan.

3. After roasting, let it cool and then pound them.

4. Heat jaggery in 1/2 cup water till the syrup is consistently thick.

5. Add roasted sesame to it and stir well to make an even paste.

6. Grease a board and spread the sesame-jaggery mixture.

7. Roll flat to 1 cm thickness.

8. When sufficiently cool and hardened cut into squares or in any other shape.

9. Serve when cool and hard.

10. Store in a container lined with butter paper.