Adyar Gopal Parivar
Makara Sankranthi
By Mohan Shenoy
Makara Sankranthi festival is related to the movement of earth in relation to the Sun.  
Many Hindus in the past revered the Sun as a god. They understood that it is the Sun
who gives them light during the day. It is the Sun whom it is difficult to look at directly. This
festival falls on either 14th or the 15th of January every year.
   The modern scientists have described the Sun as a ball of fire and that the earth goes
round the Sun in a circle completing one circle in one year. People could not figure out
why the Sun can only help us count days but not weeks and months, or years for that
matter. But when they saw the Moon, the Planets and the Stars in the sky also, they
detected that there is a difference in their positions in relation to the Sun from day to
  The Moon for example changed its size from day to day, and it took 15 days for the
Moon to either appear in full or disappear in full. This one cycle of the Moon from one Full
Moon to another they called the month with nearly 30 days each. Half a month was termed
a fortnight.
  But to create the week they had to fall back on the Planets such as the Mars, the
Mercury and the Venus, which were quite obvious in the sky both during the day and in the
night sky. Many Hindus also found the other planets such as the Saturn and the Jupiter
and created the week by giving names to the days following these heavenly bodies. The
day after the appearance of the Saturn (Saturday) in the sky was referred to as the day of
Sun (Sunday). One next to it as the day of Moon (Monday). The day after that of Moon
was called the day of Mars (Tuesday). Next to Mars is the day of Mercury (Wednesday).
After Mercury is the day of Jupiter (Thursday). Next day is the day of Venus (Friday). Many
communities regard the day of Saturn as the first day of the week, but the common
calendar puts Sunday as the first day of the week.
  The Hindus that were interested in the Sun, Moon, the Planets and the Stars found out
that the earth is not flat but round. They also found out that the earth has an orbit around
the Sun. The Sun seems to move along a line called Kranthi Vritta (Ecliptic). This Kranthi
Vritta appears to move upwards from January 14th onwards (Uttaraayana) and moves
downwards from July 5th (Dakshinaayana). These dates were determined many centuries
ago and they have changed to December 22nd for the upward movement and June 22nd
for the downward movement. The date of the Makara Sankranthi Festival, which is the day
to celebrate the start of the upward movement of the Sun, however is still maintained to be
on January 14th every year. Therefore the festival Makara Sankranthi is the day from
which the Uttaraayana begins. In Mahabhaaratha the chapter known as Bhishma Parva
(the chapter on Bhishma) tells us that Bhishma did not want to die in Dakshinaayana
period. Therefore he remained alive until Uttaraayana began and then died. He had the
power (Ichchamarani) to live as long as he wished and to die whenever he decided to die.
  Bhishma considered that dying in Uttaraayana would give his soul complete peace.
Many of the important activities such as the house-warming ceremony (Grihapravesha) are
delayed if it is Dakshinaayana. People wait for the Uttaraayana to arrive for such functions.
On this day the women of the house take active part. They cook a special dish known as
Pongal. There are two kinds of Pongal, the sweet Pongal and the hot and spicy
  The sweet Pongal is prepared from rice, jaggery and ghee. In place of jaggery sugar can
be used. Raisins, cashew kernels, saffron, coconut shreds and cardamom are added for
taste and flavour. The hot and spicy Pongal is prepared from rice, green gram daal, and
coconut shreds. Black pepper corns, cumin seeds, cashew kernels and salt are added for
taste and flavour. Along with Pongal there are other dishes prepared and a full feast is
served to the family members on this festival day.
  One activity specifically held on this festival consists of distributing white sesame seeds
(Ellu) and small pieces of jaggery (Bella) to relatives and friends including the neighbours,
colleagues in the offices, business customers and well wishers. Along with Ellu and Bella,
people give roasted Bengal gram daal, split peanuts, a piece of sugarcane, one or two
banaanas, and a sugar candy, all placed in a tray. The empty tray is returned for reuse.
When Ellu-Bella is given we say ' please eat Ellu-Bella and speak sweet talk'.           
  This custom is prevalent in the state of Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka.
In the villages the cattle are the focus of attention on this day. The villagers hold a sport for
cattle. All the residents of the village and those from the surrounding villages assemble in
the sports grounds and a fair is held, with various rides, many stalls selling popular items
and foods. The villagers bring their cattle to demonstrate them in the fair, or to sell them.
The sturdy cattle are made to run on burning embers as a source of entertainment for the
village audiences. There are other cattle sports that are held in these fairs.

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