History and Significance of Makar Sankranti, Pongal, and Lohri Celebrations: The vibrant cultural festivities of Makar Sankranti, Pongal, and various other names are observed across multiple Indian states on January 14, signifying the transition to warmer months and bidding farewell to winter. In 2024, due to it being a leap year, some regions celebrate these festivals on January 15.
This occasion marks a pivotal shift in seasons, as it is believed to symbolize the commencement of the sun’s northward journey (Uttarayan) in Hindu tradition. As January progresses, longer days emerge with the sun changing direction towards the north and entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.
From an astronomical perspective, Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun, coupled with its axial tilt, results in the changing seasons. The Northern Hemisphere experiences the axis tilting towards the sun in June (around June 21) and away from the sun around December 21, marking the Winter and Summer Solstices. India, being in the Northern Hemisphere, observes these celestial occurrences.
Unlike lunar-based festivals, Makar Sankranti aligns with the solar cycle, ensuring its celebration on a nearly fixed date annually. Sankranti is revered as a deity who, according to legends, vanquished the demon Sankarasur.
Rituals during Sankranti, such as bathing, offering Naivedhya to Lord Surya, charity, Shraddha ceremonies, and breaking fast, are recommended during Punya Kaal. If Makar Sankranti falls after sunset, Punya Kaal activities are deferred until the following sunrise.
Devotees traditionally bathe in sacred rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, and Cauvery. Rising early at sunrise, believers partake in a dip, considering it a cleansing act that brings peace, prosperity, and an opportunity for spiritual practices.
Celebrations vary regionally, with Tamil Nadu’s Pongal festival spanning four days. In Karnataka, the tradition of “Ellu bella thindu olle mathaadi” emphasizes consuming sesame seeds and jaggery while speaking positively. Women and children exchange plates with sugarcane, sesame seeds, jaggery mix, and caramelized sugar candies, symbolizing sharing and spreading happiness.
Northern India sees the distribution of sesame and jaggery ladoos or chikkis, while Bihar celebrates ‘Khichdi’ with a dish of the same name. Punjab organizes bonfires, and in Gujarat and Rajasthan, kite-flying is a popular tradition, complemented by the International Kite Festival in Ahmedabad. In the evening, sky lanterns illuminate the sky.