Makar Sankranti (also known as Makara Sankranthi or Maghi) refers both to a specific solar day in the Hindu calendar and a Hindu festival in reference to deity Surya (sun) that is observed in January every year. It marks the first day of sun's transit into the Makara (Capricorn), marking the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days.
Makar Sankranti is one of the few ancient Hindu festivals that has been observed according to solar cycles, while most festivals are set by the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar. Being a festival that celebrates the solar cycle, it almost always falls on the same Gregorian date every year (January 14), except in rare years when the date shifts by a day for that year, because of the complexity of earth-sun relative movement. The festivities associated with Makar Sankranti are known by various names such as Lohri by north Indian Hindus and Sikhs, Sukarat in central India, Bhogali Bihu by Assamese Hindus, and Pongal by Tamil and other south Indian Hindus.
Makar Sankranti is observed with social festivities such as colorful decorations, rural children going house to house, singing and asking for treats (or pocket money), melas (fairs), dances, kite flying, bonfires and feasts. The Magha Mela, according to Diana L. Eck – a professor at Harvard University specializing in Indology, is mentioned in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, thus placing this festival to be around 2,000 years old. Many go to sacred rivers or lakes and bathe with thanksgiving to the sun. Every twelve years, the Hindus observe Makar Sankranti with one of the world's largest mass pilgrimage, with an estimated 40 to 100 million people attending the event. At this event, they say a prayer to the sun and bathe at the Prayaga confluence of the River Ganga and River Yamuna at the Kumbh Mela, a tradition attributed to Adi Shankara.
Makar Sankranti set by the solar cycle of the Hindu lunisolar calendar, and is observed almost always on 14 January, and signifies the arrival of longer days. Makar Sankranti falls in the Hindu calendar solar month of Makara, and lunar month of Magha. It marks the end of the month with winter solstice and the darkest night of the year, a month that is called Pausha in lunar system and Dhanu is solar system of Hindu time keeping methodology. The festival celebrates the first month with consistently longer days.
The festival is dedicated to the Hindu sun god, Surya. This significance of Surya is traceable to the Vedic texts, particularly the Gayatri Mantra, a sacred hymn of Hinduism found in its scripture named the Rigveda. The festival also marks the beginning of a six months auspicious period for Hindus known as Uttarayana period.
Makar Sankranti is regarded as important for spiritual practices and accordingly people take a holy dip in rivers, especially Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery. The bathing is believed to result in merit or absolution of past sins. They also pray to the sun and thank for their successes and prosperity. A shared cultural practices found amongst Hindus of various parts of India is making sticky, bound sweets particularly from sesame (til) and a sugar base such as jaggery (gud, gur). This type of sweet is a symbolism for being together in peace and joyfulness, despite the uniqueness and differences between individuals. For most parts of India, this period is a part of early stages of the Rabi crop and agricultural cycle, where crops have been sown and the hard work in the fields is mostly over. The time thus signifies a period of socializing and families enjoying each other's company, taking care of the cattle, and celebrating around bonfires.
Makar Sankranti is an important pan-Indian solar festival, known by different names though observed on the same date, sometimes for multiple dates around the Makar Sankranti. It is known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Pedda Panduga in Andhra Pradesh, Biku in Assam, Magha Mela in parts of central and north India, as Makar Sankranti in the west, and by other names.
Nomenclature and regional names
A night lit up on Makar Sankranti Uttarayana Festival with Kites and Lights.
Makara or Makar Sankranti is celebrated in many parts of Indian subcontinent with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the region:
Suggi Habba, Makar Sankramana: Karnataka
Makar Sankranthi: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala
Makar Sankranti: Chhattisgarh, Goa, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Jammu
Thai Pongal, Uzhavar Thirunal: Tamil Nadu
Maghi: Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.
Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu: Assam
Shishur Saenkraat: Kashmir Valley
Khichdi: Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar
Poush Sangkranti: West Bengal
Tila Sakrait: Mithila
In other countries too the day is celebrated by Hindus, but under different names and in different ways.
Nepal: Maghe Sankranti or Maghi- /Khichdi Sankranti
Bangladesh: Shakrain/ Poush Sangkranti
Pakistan (Sindh): Tirmoori
It is celebrated differently across the Indian subcontinent. Many people take a dip in places like Ganga Sagar (the point where the river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal) and Prayag and pray to the Sun God (Surya). It is celebrated with pomp in southern parts of India as Sankranti in Karnataka (Pongal in Tamil Nadu), and in Punjab as Maghi.
Kite flying is a tradition of Makar Sankranti in many parts of India.
Many melas or fairs are held on Makar Sankranti the most famous being the Kumbha Mela, held every 12 years at one of four holy locations, namely Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nashik. The Magha Mela (or mini-Kumbh Mela held annually at Prayag) and the Gangasagar Mela (held at the head of the Ganges River, where it flows into the Bay of Bengal). Makar Mela in Odisha. Tusu Mela also called as Tusu Porab is celebrated in many parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal. Poush Mela is an annual fair and festival that takes place in Santiniketan, in Birbhum District of West Benga