Celebrated with much zeal and enthusiasm by the people of India and Nepal, Makara Sankranti or Maghi is one of the most popular Hindu festivals. Observed each year in the lunar month of Magha, which corresponds with January as per the Gregorian calendar, it almost always falls on the same date every year (January 14 or 15), except in some years when the date shifts by a day.
Dedicated to the Surya deity (Sun) to convey gratitude to nature for its resources, Sankranti denotes the sun’s transit into the zodiac sign of Makara, which marks the end of the winter solstice and the onset of longer days. The significance of Surya can be traced back to the Vedic texts, especially the Gayatri Mantra – a sacred hymn of Hinduism found in the scripture named Rigveda.
Makar Sankranti celebrations are unique in every state of India. In Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti is known as Pongal, in Gujarat and Rajasthan Makar Sankranti is known as Uttarayana, in Haryana and Punjab Makar Sankranti is known as Maghi. In Kerala, the festival is known as Makaravilakku, when the divine light is seen on the Sabarimala hills and thousands of visitors come to witness the light.
Makar Sankranti is mainly celebrated as the harvest festival, marking the arrival of the spring season. The day is synonymous with kite flying as well. Makar Sankranti activities and rituals include taking a holy dip in the Ganges, offering Naivedya or special food items to the Surya or Sun god, and distributing food and clothes to the poor. Makar Sankranti is a day associated with happiness, charity, and prosperity.
Apart from the spiritual aspect of this day, Makara Sankranti is observed with social festivities such as colorful decorations, dances, kite flying, bonfires, and most importantly, making sticky sweets particularly from jaggery (gur) and sesame (til). This custom of making sweets symbolizes peace, joyfulness, harmony, and the coming together of people, despite their uniqueness and differences.