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Makar Sankranti is celebrated every year on JANUARY 14th. Makar Sankranti marks the end of a long winter with the return of the Sun to the Northern Hemisphere. Makara literally means 'Capricorn' and Sankranti 
is the day when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. 

Image courtesy of Flikr.com/meanestindian

The Sankranti of any month is considered auspicious as it signifies a fresh start. However Makara Sankranti is celebrated in the month of Magha when the sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn.

This festival has been celebrated for thousands of years. Initially, this was probably a festival celebrated in the cold climate, when people prayed for the warmth of the sun. In all likelihood, the Aryans celebrated it, and continued to do so after migrating to India. Today, 
Makara Sankranti is celebrated throughout India as a harvest festival.

  1. What is Makar Sankranti?

  2. When do we celebrate it?

  3. What are some of the recipes made for this festival?

  4. How is it celebrated in India?

What is Makar Sankranti?

Makar Sankranti marks the commencement of the sun's journey to the Northern Hemisphere and is celebrated on the 14 of January every year all over India. It  is also a celebration of the harvest festival.  People take dips in rivers and worship the Sun God especially in the holy Ganges river. The dip is said to purify the self and bestow "punya". Special puja is offered as a thanksgiving for good harvest. According to folklore, girls who take the holy dip get handsome husbands and boys get beautiful brides.

When do we celebrate it?

Makar Sankranti is perhaps the only Indian festival whose date always falls on the same day every year i.e. the 14th of January. Can you guess why? This is because the festival of Sankranti is based on the solar calendar unlike the rest of Indian festivals, which are based on the lunar calendar.

During six months of the year, the days are longer than the nights. During the other six months, the nights are longer than the days. Have you noticed this?

The first period is called Uttaraayana. Uttara means north. Then the sun moves north from the centre of the sky. The second period is Dakshinaayaria. Dakshina means south. The sun moves southwards now. The Uttaraayana starts roughly in the period January-February. 

The day Uttaraayana starts is called Makar Sankranti. That day is very auspicious. We celebrate it as a festival all over the country. People bathe in holy waters. They worship the sun-god and give away gifts. During the six following months, happy events like marriages are celebrated.

What are some of the recipes made for this festival?

Special Recipes For Sankrant

  1. Til Poli
  2. Pongal
  3. Tilache Ladoo
  4. Sarsoon Ka Saag with Makke Di Roti or Corn Tortillas 
  5. Kurmure Ladoo

How is it celebrated in India?

Many Melas or fairs are held on Makar Sankranti the most famous being the Kumbh Mela.

Kumbha Mela

Kuumbha (Kumbha means pot) Mela (means fair) is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage that takes place at the following four locations of India:

  • Prayag, Allahabad (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) at the confluence of three holy rivers - Ganga (Ganges), Yamuna and Saraswati
  • Haridwar (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) where the river Ganga enters the plains from Himalayas
  • Ujjain (in Madhya Pradesh), on the banks of shipra river, and
  • Nasik (in Maharashtra) on the banks of Godavari river.

The pilgrimage occurs four times every twelve years, once at each of the four locations. Each twelve-year cycle includes the Maha (great) Kumbha Mela at Prayag, attended by millions of people, making it the largest pilgrimage gathering around the world.

Makar Sankranti is celebrated in Kerala at Sabarimala where the Makara Jyothi is visible followed by the Makara Vilakku celebrations.


In Gujarat, there is a custom of giving gifts to relatives. The elders in the family give gifts to the younger members of the family. The Gujarati Pundits on this auspicious day grant scholarships to students for higher studies in astrology and philosophy. This festival thus helps the maintenance of social relationships within the family, caste and community. Kite flying has been associated with this festival in a big way. It has become an internationally known event. Brightly colored kites dot the skies, in celebration of Makar Sankranti. It is considered quite a sport and you will see many competitions held on that day. Here are some kids flying a kite from a roof top ! 

"Kaipoche" means that your "patang" or kite has been cut ! "Manja" is the string used to fly the kites. 


Watch the song from the movie "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" about the kite flying festival here on YouTube


In Maharashtra people exchange sweets called Tilache ladoo made from sesame seeds, sugar and  jaggery and greet each other saying - "til-gul ghya, god god bola" meaning "accept these tilguls and speak sweet words". Maharashtrian women wear a special black saree called chandrakala which is embossed with crescent moons and starsand get together with other married women to exchange tilgul with a special ceremony called "Haldi Kunku".


In Punjab huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankrant and which is celebrated as "Lohri". Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together. The
following day, which is Sankrant is celebrated as MAGHI. The Punjabi's dance their famous "Bhangra dance" and enjoy a huge festival meal which includes Sarson Ka Saag and Makki Di Roti.


In Assam, the festival is celebrated as "Bhogali Bihu" Being the month of Magha, the fair held at the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Sarasvati rivers at Triveni in Allahabad is also called Magha Mela.


In Uttar Pradesh a ritual bath in the river is important on this day. In fact, bathing is considered mandatory on this day, and according to a popular local belief in the hills of Uttar Pradesh, one who does not bathe on Makara Sankranti is born a donkey in his next birth. The belief probably originated in cold climates to compel some of the more reluctant people to observe certain rules of hygiene. Khichiri is eaten and given away as charity, and some call the festival Khichiri Sankranti. People also distribute rice and lentils to the poor and needy. In Maharashtra, a special dish called tilgul, or laddoos made of jaggery and Sesame seed, the chief crop of the season, is popular.

A big fair is held at the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Sarasvati rivers at Triveni in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) on this occasion. Being the month of Magha, this fair is also called Magha Mela. Apart from Triveni, ritual bathing also takes place at many places like Haridvar and Garh Mukteshwar in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna in Bihar. Since it is also the season to fly kites, the evening sky is awash with colorful kites of all shapes and sizes. Several kite competitions are held in various localities.


In Karnataka, the festival is marked by visiting one's friends and relatives to exchange greetings, and by the preparation of a dish called Ellu (made with sesame seeds, coconuts, sugar blocks, etc). A common custom found across Karnataka is the exchange of sugarcane pieces and Ellu with one's neighbors, friends and relatives. In Karnataka, Pongal is known as 'Sankranti', and cows and bullocks are gaily decorated and fed 'Pongal'- a sweet preparation of rice. Special prayers are offered. In the evening, the cattle are led out in procession to the beat of drums and music. 

In the night a bonfire is lit and the animals are made to jump over the fire. Makar Sankranti is marked by men, women and children wearing colorful clothing; visiting near and dear ones; and exchanging pieces of sugarcane, a mixture of fried til, molasses, pieces of dry coconut, peanuts and fried gram. On this auspicious day, people in Karnataka distribute Yellu and Bella (Sesame seeds and Jaggery) and greet with the words " “Ellu bella thindu, Olle Maathu Aadu” (Eat sesame seeds and speak only good). The significance of this exchange is that sweetness should prevail in all the dealings.


In South India, Sankrant is known by the name of "Pongal".  The day after Sankranti is Pongal-day. This festival is observed specially in Tamil Nadu.

On that day people bathe the cow, put "tilak" on its forehead, tie beads and ornaments round its horns and neck, and worship it. They feed it with feet cakes.

The cow is a useful animal. It gives us milk, from which we make curd, butter and butter -milk. It is like a mother to us all. We show our gratitude to her on that day. In ancient times cows were counted as wealth, just as we count rupees now.

There is another custom in Tamil Nadu. On the day of the festival women bathe early in the morning and cook new harvested rice in a big fresh earthen pot called Pongal. When the rice boils and overflows, they shout joyfully ‘Pongal-O-pongal!" That is why it is called Pongal-day.

After offering the cooked rice to God, by way of thanks, the family and friends eat it. People exchange greetings on that day. They celebrate it just like a New Year’ day.


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