Makara Sankranti is a day of celebration in India. It is when the sun begins its six-month journey in the northern direction and marks a season of increased light.
On this day the sun is honored as the form of the Absolute, the embodiment of the supreme light that nourishes and sustains life. As Makara Sankranti heralds the return of light to the northern hemisphere, it is considered an auspicious time of change and transit.
The Sanskrit word sankranti means “passage.” Makara Sankranti refers to the passage of the sun through the tenth sign of the zodiac, known as makara in Vedic astrology.
A makara is a half-terrestrial and half-aquatic animal. In Indian mythology, makara are the vehicle of the river goddess Ganga, the sea god Varuna, and other aquatic deities. They are also considered guardians of gateways and thresholds and are often depicted at the entryways to temples.
Makara Sankranti is also a day when the noble warrior Bhishma is honored. In the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, Bhishma was mortally wounded in battle. He was the epitome of dharma, or righteousness, and the Lord gave him the boon of choosing the time of his own death. He chose to lie waiting on his bed of arrows until the day the sun turned in the northern direction, so his final journey would follow the path of light. As he lay on the battlefield, Bhishma taught his nephew, King Yudhisthira, how to rule the kingdom wisely and righteously. He also imparted to him a sacred text, the Vishnu Sahasranam.
Makara Sankranti is observed as a time for renewal and giving joyfully. On this day, people give sesame seed laddus, saying, “Please accept this sweet laddu and let us speak sweetly with each other.” This exchange symbolizes the resolution to absolve past differences and to allow the spirit of friendship to guide one’s interactions.