Makar Sankranti – known as “Pongol” or even as just “Sankranti” – is widely celebrated throughout India, and even in some areas of Nepal on the 14th of January. This astrological holiday marks the period in which the Sun transitions into the zodiac sign of Capricorn – also known as Makara Rashi. This is also said to be a celebration of the Hindu Sun God Surya.
Additionally, this day also symbolizes winter transitioning into spring and the beginning of the harvest season! It also indicates that from this time on, the days will now be longer compared to the long nights we experience in the winter. Moreover, it is said that during mid-December (around the time of the winter solstice – Yule) marks the beginning of an inauspicious, un-favorable phase, which ends on Makar Sankranti.
In different regions of India and Nepal this day is celebrated differently, and may even be referred to by another name. You’ll also find that the customs and celebrations vary depending on where you happen to be. Some areas even tend to celebrate a little longer than others.
Often families will make trips to visit each other, sometimes exchanging gifts or preparing certain dishes. It is likely that rice will be boiled in fresh milk inside of new pots, later to be topped with jaggery – a natural sweetener, similar to sugar, made from sugarcane juice with no use of chemicals or additives. Jaggery is actually a great substitute for sugar and is used in various types of Ayurvedic medicines.
You’ll most likely see beautiful designs of rangoli being drawn by groups of women. Rangoli are drawn to be sacred areas which welcome the Hindu deities, and are usually drawn on the floor with materials, such as colored sand, rice, sometimes flower petals, and even spices like turmeric along with dry flour can be used. I see a lot of these designs drawn in front of shops and outside of homes; usually thought to bring in good luck. However, more elaborate, colorful patterns are intricately drawn during major festivals.
In South India, it is very likely that you will see cows decorated – perhaps in colorful costumes, and painted with vibrant colors. This ritual is referred to as “Kichchu Haayisuvudu”, and once the cows are in full décor, they are made to walk across a pyre, or type of bonfire.
Another enjoyable aspect of the grand holiday is looking up at the sky! Why? You ask… Because you will see hundreds of kites (depending on where you are, of course) being flown from the roof-tops in India! From morning till late into the evening so many colors, shapes, and size variations will be soaring across the skies. Some children and their families even make their own kites to fly on this special occasion.
Yes, there are those who decide to fight with their kites too, having the strings intertwine until one of them has been cut, soaring away with the wind. A lot of the children like to have competitions with each other, attempting to see who can cut down the most kites throughout the day.
You’re out of the game when your kite has been cut down, as one of the rules is to cut down as many as you can with the same flying kite. Of course, the fun doesn’t end here though, you simply pick up another kite and begin all over again, flying it as high as you can into the skies above.
I’d like to note that most of the kite’s strings are coated with glass. You want to be extremely careful when handling and flying them. Kites that do have these dangerous strings are referred to as ‘Manja’, while ‘Saddha’ is made out of cotton.
There are even many kite festivals that are held during this time, and depending on which region you are in it can vary in date, time, and number of participants! Some even believe that by flying these kites high into the sky, it will wake the gods who have been asleep during the cooler, winter months!