People of Indian origin celebrated Makar Sankranti today, 15th January 2019. Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of the harvest season in India.
It is one of the few Indian festivals that follows the solar cycles, most of the festivals follow the lunar cycles of the Hindu calendar. Hence the date of this festival is the same every year, most often 14th January, barring a few when its on 15th January.
In Sanskrit language ‘Sankranti’ means the Sun’s movement from one constellation of the zodiac to the next one. As per Indian astronomy on Makar Sankranti, the Sun moves from Dhanu (Sagittarius) zodiac sign to Makar (Capricorn). Thus, begins Sun’s journey to the north, marking the end of Winter and start of Spring, also warmer days.
Childhood memories of the Makar Sankranti day are still vivid in my mind. On a cold morning on 14th/ 15th January, we were asked to take a shower and dress up and head to the kitchen. There in a ‘Thali’/ plate mom would have laid out small heaps of Rice, Black Lentils, one or two potatoes and spoonful to turmeric and salt. These were all the ingredients one needed to make ‘Khichdi’. We were asked to touch our respective thalis and say a small prayer. This would then be donated to the local temple priest or the poor.
Using the same ingredients Mom would then make Khichdi (pressure cook all the ingredients apart from Potatoes) for all of us. Potatoes were used to make ‘Chokha’, mashed potatoes mixed with onions, mustard oil, cilantro and bhara mirch(red pepper filled with spices). On this day, every household in the neighborhood would be cooking Khichdi in that part of India (State of Uttar Pradesh).
What’s a meal in an Indian household without a sweet at the end! But that is what I hated the most on that day. We were made to eat sweets made with sesame seeds and jaggery, Gajak and Ladoos. I hated the taste then, and still do.
My dad has told me stories about how as a kid he would travel by foot and bullock cart to go to the confluence of 3 rivers (Ganges, Yamuna, Saraswati), considered to be holy by the Hindus. This trip was made to take a dip in the river on Makar Sankranti day and by doing so, it is believed, all your sins would be washed off. Millions of people still travel to this confluence , known as Sangam, at Prayagraj and take a dip and say a prayer to the Sun.
Makar Sankranti also marks the commencement of the ‘Kumbh Mela’, considered as the “world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims”.
From now until March, up to 120 million pilgrims, nearly double the population of the UK or France, are expected to travel to Prayagraj for the Kumbh Mela.
Here is a great documentary about the Kumbh.
May the Sun radiate Peace, Prosperity and Radiance in your life.
Happy Makar Sankranti!