Makar Sankranti is four days festivity period which is dedicated to Lord Sun. All rituals during Makar Sankranti are gestures of thanksgiving to natural resources which make life possible on the Earth. The Sun God is worshiped for bestowing good harvest and nurturing livestock.The cattle especially bulls and oxen are worshiped for their significance in traditionally ploughing fields.
According to the Hindu calendar Makar Sankranti is a festival celebrated at Magh 1st of Hindu Solar Calendar. It also symbolizes the end of the winter solace which makes the day last longer than night. Makara Sankranti commemorates the beginning of the harvest season and cessation of the northeast monsoon in South India.
Makar Sankranti has an astrological significance, as the sun enters the Capricorn (Sanskrit: Makara) zodiac constellation on that day. This date remains almost constant with respect to the Gregorian calendar. However, precession of the Earth's axis (called ayanamsa) causes Makar Sankranti to move over the ages. A thousand years ago, Makar Sankranti was on 31 December and is now on 14 January. According to calculations, commencing the year 2050, Makar Sankranti will fall on 15 January and occasionally on 16 January.
Makar Sankranti, apart from a harvest festival is also regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase in Indian culture. It is said as the 'holy phase of transition'. It marks the end of an inauspicious phase which according to the Hindu calendar begins around mid-December. It is believed that any auspicious and sacred ritual can be sanctified in any Hindu family, this day on wards. .
All over the country, Makar Sankranti is observed with great fanfare. However, it is celebrated with distinct names and rituals in different parts of the country. In the states of northern and western India, the festival is celebrated as the Sankranti day with special zeal and fervor. The importance of this day has been signified in the ancient epics like Mahabharata also. So, apart from socio-geographical importance, this day also holds a historical and religious significance.
In 2016, the date of Makar Sankranti is January 15. Punyakaal or time to take holy bath is at early morning during sunrise. (Please note some calendars have marked Makar Sankranti on January 14 this is because a day as per Hindu calendar is from sunrise to next day before sunrise. If you look in these calendars you will see that the auspicious time is marked after 12:00 AM - this is next day as per English calendar.)
Makar Sankranti is observed throughout India by all communities but with slight variations in the festivities.
Lord Surya is worshipped on the Makar Sankranti day and is a form of Nature Worship. A major event on the day is the bathing ritual at Sangam (confluence of Yamuna, Saraswati and Ganga) in Allahabad and also in the famous bathing ghats on River Ganga. It is an important bathing date during the famous Magh Mela and Kumbh Mela at Sangam (Prayag) in Allahabad. Taking a holy dip on the day is considered to cleanse sins committed and this will lead to Moksha (Salvation).
Makar Sankranti is known as Uttarayan in Gujarat and is noted for the kite flying event. Uttarayan is a significant festival in Gujarat which lasts for two days. The main day of Makar Sankranti is known as Uttarayan and the next day of Uttarayan is known as Vasi Uttarayan or stale Uttarayan. The day is considered highly auspicious and is dedicated to Lord Surya.
In Tamil Nadu people celebrate Makar Sankranti as Pongal. Pongal is celebrated for four days but the most important day of Pongal festivity is known as Thai Pongal and it is celebrated on Makar Sankranti day. Thai Pongal is followed by Mattu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal. The day before Thai Pongal is known as Bhogi.
In Andhra Pradesh, similar to Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti is celebrated for four days. The day before Sankranti is known as Bhogi Pandigai. The main Sankranti day is known as Pedda Panduga, which is followed by Kanuma Panduga and Mukkanuma.
In Kerala, the most important event on Makar Sankranti is Makaravilakku. The world famous Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple celebrates Sankranti during evening by lighting Makaravilakku. Makaravilakku is artificial light that is created three times at a distant hill. Thousands of devotees wait for Makaravilakku as it symbolizes celestial lighting at Sabarimala Hills.
Bhogali Bihu is celebrated on the day in Assam.
Makar Mela is observed in Orissa.