Sankranti or Sankranthi marks the transition of the Sun into Makara rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path. Traditionally, this has been one of many harvest days in India.
Owing to the vast geography and diversity of culture in India, this festival is celebrated for innumerable reasons and in innumerable ways depending on the climate, agricultural environment, cultural background and location.
Makar Sankranti is a major harvest festival celebrated in various parts of India. According to the lunar calendar, when the sun moves from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn or from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana, in the month of Poush in mid-January, it commemorates the beginning of the harvest season and cessation of the northeast monsoon in South India. The movement of the earth from one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti and as the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac known as Makar in Hindi, this occasion is named as Makar Sankranti in the Indian context. It is one of the few Hindu Indian festivals which are celebrated on a fixed date i.e. 14th or 15th January every year.
Sankranti is celebrated all over South Asia with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the country.
In India it is known by different regional names
* Makar Sankranti or Sankranti – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Sikkim, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Uttarakhand.
* Uttarayan- Gujarat and Rajasthan
* Maghi – Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab
* Pongal – Tamil Nadu
* Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu – Assam Valley
* Shishur Saenkraat – Kashmir Valley
* Makara Vilakku Festival – Sabarimala Temple (Kerala)
In other countries too the day is celebrated but under different names and in different ways
* In Nepal,
o Tharu people – Maghi
o Other people – Maghe Sankranti or Maghe Sakrati
* In Thailand – Songkran
* In Laos – Pi Ma Lao
* In Myanmar – Thingyan
* In Cambodia – Moha Sangkran
1 According to the Puranas, on this day Surya(Sun) visits the house of his son Shani(Saturn), who is the lord of the Makar rashi(Zodiac Capricorn). Though the father and son duo did not get along well, the Surya made it a point to meet his son on this day. He, in fact, comes to his son’s house, for a month. This day thus symbolizes the importance of the special relationship between father and son.
2 From Makar Sankranti starts the day of devatas(Gods), while dakshinayana (southward movement of the sun) is said to be the night of devatas, so most of the auspicious things are done during this time. Uttarayana is also called as Devayana, and the dakshinayana’ is called Pitrayana.
3 It was on this day when Lord Vishnu ended the ever increasing terror of the Asuras(Demons) by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandara Parvata. So this occasion also represents the end of ‘negativities’ and beginning of an era of righteous living.
4 Maharaja Bhagiratha, performed great penance to bring Ganga down to 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 Pataala(underworld) for the redemption of the curse of Bhagiratha’s ancestors the Ganges finally merged into the sea. A very big Ganga Sagar Mela is organized every year on this day at the confluence of River Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Thousands of Hindus take a dip in the water and perform tarpan for their ancestors.
5 Another well-known reference of this day came when the great grand-sire of Mahabharata fame, Bhishma, declared his intent to leave his mortal coil on this day. He had the boon of Ichha-Mrityu(death at his will) 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(rebirth). So this day was seen as a definite auspicious day to start a journey or endeavours to the higher realms beyond
This is the Suggi or harvest festival for farmers of Kaveri basin of Karnataka. On this auspicious day, young females (kids & teenagers) wear new clothes to visit near and dear ones with a Sankranti offering in a plate, and exchange the same with other families. This ritual is called “Ellu Birodhu”. Here the plate would normally contain “Ellu” (white sesame seeds) mixed with fried groundnuts, neatly cut dry coconut & fine cut bella(Jaggery). The mixture is called “Ellu Bella” . The plate will also contain sugar candy moulds of various shapes (Sakkare Acchu with a piece of sugarcane.’Yellu-Bella’ is normally distributed by women. There is a saying in Kannada “Yellu bella thindu olle maathadi” which means ‘Eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good’. This signifies the harvest of the season, since sugarcane is predominant in these parts.
In some parts of Karnataka, a newly married woman is required to give away bananas for a period of five years to married women(muthaidhe) from the first year of her marriage, but increase the number of bananas in multiples of five. There is also a tradition of some households giving away red berries “Yalchi Kai” along with the above.
Another important ritual is display of cows and cattle in colourful costumes in an open field. Cows are decorated for the occasion and taken on a procession. They are also made to cross a pyre. This ritual is common in rural Karnataka and is called “Kichchu Haisodhu.”
Ayyappa, the son of Vishnu & Shiva
Lord Ayyappan or simply Ayyappa (also spelled as Ayappa) is a popular Hindu deity worshiped mainly in South India. Ayyaappa is believed to be born out of the union between Lord Shiva and the mythical enchantress Mohini, who is regarded as an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Therefore, Ayyappa is also known as ‘Hariharan Puthiran’ or ‘Hariharputhra,’ which literally means the son of both ‘Hari’ or Vishnu and ‘Haran’ or Shiva.
Why Ayyappa is called Manikandan
Ayyappa is also commonly known as ‘Manikandan’ because, according to the legend of his birth, his divine parents tied a golden bell (mani) around his neck (kandan) soon after his birth. As the legend goes, when Shiva and Mohini abandoned the baby on the banks of the Pampa river, King Rajashekhara, the childless monarch of Pandalam, found the newborn Ayyappa and accepted him as a divine gift and adopted him as his own son.
Why the Gods Created Ayyappa
The legendary story of the genesis of Lord Ayyappa in the Puranas or ancient scriptures is intriguing. After Goddess Durga killed the demon king Mahishasur, his sister, Mahishi, set out to avenge her brother. She carried Lord Brahma’s boon that only the child born of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva could slay her, or, in other words, she was indestructible. To save the world from annihilation, Lord Vishnu, incarnated as Mohini, wed Lord Shiva and out of their union Lord Ayyappa was born.
The Story of Ayyappa’s Childhood
After King Rajashekhara adopted Ayyappa, his own biological son Raja Rajan was born. Both the boys grew up in a princely manner. Ayyappa or Manikantan was intelligent and excelled in martial arts and the knowledge of various “shastras” or scriptures. He surprised everyone by his superhuman powers. Upon completing his princely training and studies when he offered ‘gurudakshina’ or fee to his guru, themaster aware of his divine power asked him for a blessing of sight and speech for his blind and dumb son. Manikantan placed his hand on the boy and the miracle happened.
Royal Conspiracy Against Ayyappa
When it was time to name the heir to the throne, King Rajashekhara wanted Ayyappa or Manikantan, but the queen wanted her own son to be the king. She plotted with the diwan or minister and her physician to kill Manikantan. Feigning illness, the queen made her physician ask for an impossible remedy – lactating tigress’s milk. When no one could procure it, Manikantan volunteered to go, much against his father’s will. On the way he chanced upon the demon Mahishi and slew her on the banks of the river Azhutha. Manikandan then entered the forest for tigress’ milk where he met Lord Shiva and at his behest sat on the tiger, and came back to the palace.
The Deification of Lord Ayyappa
The King had already understood the queen’s machinations against his son and begged Manikantan’s forgiveness. Manikantan then left for his heavenly abode after telling the king to build a temple at Sabari, so that his memories could be perpetuated on earth. When the construction was complete, Lord Parasuram sculpted the figure of Lord Ayyappa and installed it on the day of Makar Sankranti. Thus, Lord Ayyappa was deified.
The Worship of Lord Ayyappa
Lord Ayyappa is believed to have laid down strict religious adherence to receive his blessings. First, the devotees should observe a 41-day penance before visiting him in the temple. They should maintain abstinence from physical pleasures and family ties and live like a celibate or ‘brahmachari.’ They should also continuously contemplate on the goodness of life. Moreover, the devotees have to bathe in the holy river Pampa, adorn themselves with three-eyed coconut and ‘aantha’ garland and then brave the steep climb of the 18 stairs to the Sabarimala temple.
The Famous Pilgrimage to Sabarimala
Sabarimala in Kerala is the most famous Ayyappa shrine visited by over 50 million devotees it every year, making it one of the most popular pilgrimages in the world. Pilgrims from around the country brave the dense forests, steep hills and inclement weather to seek the blessings of Ayyappa on the 14h day of January, known as Makar Sankranti or Pongal, when the Lord himself is said to descend in the form of light. The devotees then accept ‘prasada’ or the Lord’s food offerings and descend the 18 steps walking backwards with their faces turned towards the Lord.