Makara Sankranti is the day dedicated to worship of Surya Devata–– the Sun god, whose light nourishes and sustains all life on this planet. This day heralds the beginning of the season of increased light in the northern hemisphere, as the sun begins its six-month journey toward the north. This journey of the sun, called uttarayana, is mirrored by the inner journey that takes place within a human being; Makara Sankranti symbolizes the prana-shakti moving upward within one’s being, an inner uttarayana through the various chakras and toward the resplendent, thousand-petaled sahasrara.
Makara Sankranti is one of the few Indian holidays that is based on the solar cycle. According to the Indian calendar Panchang, it is typically observed on January 14th, although this year marks a slight exception. In 2020, Makara Sankranti will be celebrated on January 14th in the Western Hemisphere and January 15th in India. This is due to a slight shift forward in the time of the winter solstice.
The Sanskrit word sankranti means “passage,” and in Vedic astrology, makara is the name of the tenth sign of the zodiac. The makara is a mythological animal, half-terrestrial and half-aquatic, and it is often depicted as a crocodile. It is considered to be a guardian of gateways and thresholds.
Makara Sankranti is the day when people throughout India honor the noble warrior Bhishma Pitahmaha (in English, Grandfather Bhishma), who was the embodiment of dharma and righteousness. The Indian epic Mahabharata recounts how Bhishma was mortally wounded in a ferocious battle, pierced through by thousands of arrows. Because he had led a life of dharma, he received from Lord Krishna the boon of choosing the time of his own death. Bhishma chose to depart on Makara Sankranti so that his final journey would follow the path of light. As he lay waiting on his bed of arrows for the auspicious hour when the sun would turn northward, he imparted to his great-nephew Yudhisthira the revered text Vishnu Sahasranama.
Although on the one hand, there is this association on Makara Sankranti with the passing of the great soul Bhishma Pitahmaha, Makara Sankranti is also celebrated as a time of renewal. The days grow longer and warmer. Farmers rejoice as they reap a bumper crop from lush green rice fields and a countryside covered in yellow-flowered mustard plants and green and golden stalks of sugarcane. The impression one has when looking out over this harvest is of an infinite golden earth. Throughout India people celebrate, the festival taking on a different name depending on the region. It is Makara Sankranti in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana; Pongal in Tamil Nadu; Lohri and Maghi in Punjab and Haryana; Utarana in Gujarat; and Magh Bihu in Assam, to name just a few examples.
In Maharashtra, the state in which Gurudev Siddha Peeth, the Siddha Yoga Ashram in India, is situated, it is customary for people to offer laddu, sweets made of sesame seeds and jaggery, to one another on Makara Sankranti. As they give each other these sweets, they say to each other in the Marathi language, “Tiḷgul ghya god god bola: Please receive this laddu, and speak sweetly.” The sentiment behind this phrase is beautiful—it is an encouragement for people to remember once more the sweetness that exists in the world and to let go of that which is bitter.
Throughout India, thousands of people, young and old, take part in the Makara Sankranti festivities by flying kites. They often compete with one another as they fly these kites. Laughter and exuberance abound—it is equal fun for those joining in the sport and for those watching and cheering them on. All the kite fliers pray that a strong wind will come, pick up their kites, and send them soaring into the sky. Each hopes that their kite will get the closest to Surya Devata.
The festivities on Makara Sankranti are filled with fun and games—and still, the intention is to touch the sun. It is to be with Surya Devata. As the day goes on, the blue sky is papered with innumerable kites in every color, shape, design, and size imaginable. The sun shines gloriously through this mosaic, a refraction of color that warms the earth and all those who stand upon it. It is a marvelous sight.
One of the wonderful ways to celebrate Makara Sankranti is by reciting mantras in homage to Surya Devata. These mantras include:
You may recite these mantras and do spiritual practices throughout the day on Makara Sankranti. The entire day is fortuitous for worship; in fact, the punyakal, the most auspicious time of day according to the Indian calendar Panchanga, is especially long on Makara Sankranti.