You would be reading this three days before Uttarayan if you’ve brought this copy from a newsstand. But if you’re a League subscriber, reading the story might just give you a sense of it being a post-script; what with the day having gone by a couple of days ago. Luckily, League has never been about ‘breaking news’ the much abuse phrase of our times. As ever, the endeavour is to realise a fact or two while having fun.

So, what is Makar Sankranti, the day which we celebrate by going berserk over rooftops, flying kites?

Makar Sankranti – also known or pronounced as Makar Sankrant – is an auspicious day based on the movement of the Sun (Surya). ‘Makar’  refers to ‘Makara rashi’ – the zodiac corresponding to Capricorn. ‘Sankranti’ in Sanskrit means ‘to cross into’ or the day when sun enters from one zodiac sign to another. So Makar Sankranti is the day when the sun enters into the zodiac Capricorn. It is also known as Uttarayana Punyakalam or the entry of sun into the Northern Hemisphere. The six-month long Uttarayana begins on this day.

Makara Sankranti is celebrated on January 14th in the Hindu month of Magh. Hindu calendar is based on the movement of the moon and therefore it is a lunar calendar. Hence the change in the date of various celebrations with corresponding English Calendar. But Makarasankranti is based on solar movement and therefore it has a fixed day.
Makar Sankranti is of great significance to a devote Hindu. Lord Surya (Sun God) is worshiped on this day. Every living and non-living being merges with the Brahman and Sun is the Pratyaksha-Brahman or the Brahman that can be seen.
The importance of Sun to earth and to the living beings was understood by Hindus from the very beginning. And the importance of it can be found in the Gayatri Mantra chanted to Sun (Surya) daily.

There is also a symbolic meaning to Makara Sankranti. ‘Makar’ means crocodile. Sankranti means ‘to cross into or change.’ The ‘Makara’ or crocodile represents the materialistic world and ‘Sankranti’ gives an opportunity to get away from the clutches of the crocodile or the materialistic world.

The six month long Uttarayana begins on the Makar Sankrant day. From this day, the harshness of winter subsidizes and the days get longer. Symbolically, the Sun slowly removes darkness and ushers in the light of knowledge.
Uttarayana is also the daytime of the Devas and therefore auspicious activities takes place during this period.

There are also numerous legends and myths which add to the importance of Makara Sankranti.
One of the most important myths is the death of Bhisma Pitamaha in the Mahabharata. Bhisma chose Makarasankranti day to die. (Bhisma had got a boon from his father that he will only die when he wishes.) It is believed that people who die during Uttarayana merges with the Brahman, thus ending the cycle of rebirth.

Legend also has it that Lord Vishnu buried Asuras on this day beneath the Mandara Mountain. It signifies the end of evil and the dawn of righteousness.

Another legend is that King Bhageeratha brought Ganges down into Patala on Makara Sankranti day. This was to get salvation to his ancestors who were cursed by Sage Kapila and turned into ashes. On this day millions of people take bath in the Ganges. Makara Sankranti is also an important bathing date during Kumbh Mela and Magh Mela.

Puranas state that on Makar Sankranti day, Surya (Sun) visits Lord Shani. According to mythology Lord Shani, is the son of Surya.

Since Makara Sankranti is associated with Surya (Sun God), the best way to start the day, believed by many, is by reciting the Gayatri Mantra.

It is believed that Lord Surya visits his son Lord Shani on this day, irrespective of their difference in opinions. Therefore many people make it a point to visit their sons and buy them gifts. It is also a day to forgive past quarrels and start afresh.

The six month long Uttarayana begins on the Makar Sankrant day. From this day, the harshness of winter subsidizes and the days get longer. Symbolically, the Sun slowly removes darkness and ushers in the light of knowledge.

Sweets and dishes made out of Sesame oil (Til) are served on this day. Sweets made out of Til is exchanged as mark of friendship. The symbolic meaning is to emulate the quality of Tilgul – to stick together even in adversity. Rice meal is the order of the day in Bihar, Jharkhand and is some parts of Uttar Pradesh.

Throughout India Makar Sankrati is in a way associated with harvest. So people pray for a good harvest on this day. Cows – which is an integral part of agriculture – is bathed and worshipped. Another important aspect is ‘Daan’ or Charity. Charity does not merely confirm to money but a person donates what he/she is able to like food, Moong Dal, rice, ghee, Til etc.

In Maharashtra, sweets made out of Til  are exchanged between friends and relatives. Married women in Maharashtra apply Haldi-Kumkum on each others’ forehead.

In Rajasthan, especially in Jaipur, the most important event is the kite flying.

In Uttar Pradesh and people living along the banks of Ganga takes a dip in the river on this day and offer prayers to Sun God.

Makar Sankranti is celebrated throughout India in different names:

  • In Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Pongal – a harvest festival.
  • In Andhra Pradesh, it is Pedda Panduga – a harvest festival – and is celebrated for four days.
  • In Kerala, Makar Sankranti marks the end of the pilgrimage to the famous Sabarimala Temple.
  • In West Bengal, it is Pithey parban – a harvest festival – and there is also the famous Ganga Sagar mela.
  • In Assam, it is Bhogali Bihu.
  • In Punjab, Jammu and in some parts of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, it is Lohri.
  • In Central India, it is Sakarat.
  • In Orissa, it is Makar Mela.

Clearly, Makar Sankranti is a festival that is celebrated throughout the nation. And the diversity in the methods of celebration of the same festival is what makes India such a fascinating country. To a foreigner, the country would look like a collage of cultures woven together by a common thread.

During last year’s ‘Patangotsav’ as a part of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, the Gujarat government had posted the following description of the occassion, probably for the international participants, on the festival home page:

“Uttarayan, or Makara Sankranti is traditionally believed to be the starting point of the Sun’s northward journey.
“When Sun enters the orbit of a rashi from another, it is called sankranti . Sun moves in the orbit of a rashi for a month. In the month of paush , the sun enters the orbit of Makara (Capricorn); and thus the day is celebrated as ‘Makara Sankranti ‘.

The day of Uttarayan has special importance and is regarded as very auspicious. It is also believed that the Gods sleep for six months closing the doors of heaven, which open at the entrance of the sun in northern zone, i.e. in the orbit of Makara , when the Gods awake from a long slumber.

Uttarayan also has a significant relationship with the agricultural economy of the state. By this time, the Kharif crops are ready and are brought home. In an economy which is purely agricultural, domestic animals are not forgotten and grass is freely distributed to the village cattle. Uttarayan, thus, becomes a harvest festival in the true sense of the term.”


When did it all start?

The kites of history can be traced back thousands of years to when kites first originated in China.

The initial usage of kites was purely military: they were a communication tool. Different messages were communicated mainly via different colored kites during the day. At night, the message communicated was very limited in comparison to those during the day because the lanterns carried by the kite could not produce different lights.

In extremely rare occasions, giant kites carrying aerial observers were also deployed in reconnaissance roles.

Gradually, kites became a popular form of recreation as well as art. With the advent of gunpowder, kites were occasionally flown for bombing missions after the Yuan Dynasty, delivering explosives to targets that were out of reach of cannons and arrows, such as those on the opposite slope of a mountain.


Ahmedabad’s goldmine digging dust:

Courtesy Bhanubhai Shah, Ahmedabad had the privilege of having an excitingly unique museum – a kite museum in the year 1987. Alas, like most heritage treasure across the nation, the museum did not take too long to become a dungeon of non-maintenance. In fact, it should come as a surprise if any common Amdavadi can claim to know of even the museum’s existence!

Quite heartbreakingly for Bhanubhai, the museum had been donated the best of his 50 year-old collection. Apart from kites, many useful information nuggets too had formed a part of the museum.

Sample this:

Kite was born in China in 200 BC

The NY Tribune had used kites to display results of the 1896 Presidential elections


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