Makara Samkranti (A change towards a balanced life)
The month of January has several significant events of the history such as birth of Swami (sage) Vivekananda and Martin Luther king. One of the most auspicious days for the Hindus, Makara Samkranti, also falls in the same month, generally on the 14th January. Makara (Capricorn) is a name of one of the 12 divisions of the zodiac. The anology of Samkranti is Samyak-Kranti. Samyak in Samskrita language means balanced, equal or orderly state of existence and kranti means a forward fundamental change. Briefly, Samkranti means a forward transition. Thus, the basic meaning of the Samkranti is a change towards a balanced life, social setup and brotherhood amongst all individuals.
Makara Samkranti is celebrated in almost all parts of the Bharat (India). As Bharat is a diverse and multilinguist country, this festival is called by different names in different parts of the country such as ‘Pongal‘, ‘Lohri‘, ‘Khichari’, ‘Paush Samkranti’, ‘Magha Samkranti’, ‘Bhogali Bihu’. This festival is also celebrated in different ways. During this day, elders in the family give special gifts to the younger members of the family. Thousands of people fly colorful kites. They also hold kite competitions. Especially kids and youngsters take part in the kite competitions and play enthusiastically. Kite-playing has been a unique and famous game being played in Bharat. People from northern parts of the India get up early in the morning and do the Ganga-Snan (bathing in the waters of the holy river – Ganga) and Suryapooja (worshipping the Sun). The month January is the peak of the winter. On the eve of Samkranti,people light huge bonfires around which all friends and relatives gather together. In some parts of the Bharat (India), a til-gud (a mixture of til – sesame seeds and gud – jagary) is served to friends and family members. In cold days, eating til-gud helps to maintain the body temperature and to keep the health good. Womenfolk, especially recently married ones, invite each other for the get together called ‘Haldi-kumkum’ and give gifts which are useful in the daily routine. In southern parts of Bharat, it is celebrated by worshipping the Sun. People eat and serve a pongal – a delicious dish of sweet rice and jaggery. In villages, cows, bullocks and cattle are washed, decorated and worshipped. Birds are fed colorful pongal balls. Bullock cart races are held where the village people get together and participate. There is a tradition of special art called Rangoli, which is drawn during this festival season. This art is done in front of the house with the Rice flour and colors. As described in the beginning, though Makara Samkranti is being known by different names and celebrated in different ways, the message delivered by it is one and the same for all. Despite the variety of rituals and customs, there is a unity and homogeneity in the basic concept of this festival.
On the social ground, Makara Samkranti carries a vital significance for society’s welfare. It stands for the brotherhood amongst all individuals which is the basic requisite of the great precepts of liberty and equality. The selfishness, the ultimate destructor of the social fabric cannot stand where a spirit of brotherhood is alive. As described earlier, it is the tradition to eat and serve til (sesame seeds) and gud (jaggery). Til represents an individual whereas jaggery represents sweetness, love and affection. The paste of jaggery (love and affection) holds all til (individuals) together to form a social harmony. In today’s world, where variety of faiths and beliefs exist, this kind of attitude is very much essential. This is the day considered as a time to express gratitude to the elements of Mother Nature which help to nurture and enrich human lives. From this day, the duration of sun-light increases and that of night (darkness) decreases. Light symbolizes knowledge, and brighter aspects of our lives and darkness represent ignorance and duller aspects. Thus ‘Samkranti’ signifies this positive change of increasing the good qualities in us and decreasing the negative ones.
As per the Hindu calendar (panchang or panchangam), the seasonal year is divided into two parts: The first part/period of the year (first six months) is called as Uttaraayana. The Sun’s apparent trajectory in the sky heads northward during this period. The second part/period is called Dakshinaayana wherein the Sun appears to head southward. Further, as Earth revolves around the Sun, the Sun appears to cross each raashi about once a month. This transit from one raashi to the next is called samkranti. Makara Samkranti is the first such samkranti day in the Uttaraayana period. Similarly, Karkataka samkranti is the first one during Dakshinayana. Amonth the twelve samkranti days in the Hindu tradition, both these ‘ayana samkranti’ days are especially celebrated. In particular, the Makara Samkranti is very popular. Due to the precession of the Earth axis, the beginning of the ayanas moves backwards from one raashi to the previous in a cycle of about 26,000 years. Thus, the beginning of Uttaraayana and Dakshinaayana is not locked to any samkranti. However, the significance of the ayana samkrantis lie in the fact that they constitute the ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ sandhyaa times of the luminaries (devas). Our one full year making up their one day-night cycle. These ‘deva sandhyaa’ times are the sacred times for meditations just as our dawn/ dusk times are sacred for our daily meditations or poojas.