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Sankranti Symphony: Mythical Tales, Ayurvedic Wisdom, and Culinary Revelations"

The festive calendar in India begins on January 14 every year & the new year always begins on a sweet note. 2024 marks the celebration of new beginnings, with Makara Sankranti celebrated with festive fervour across most parts of the country.


This year being a leap year, Makara Sankranti is celebrated on January 15. It is without doubt that Indian festivals appeal to all the senses & are punctuated by a riot of colours. The auspicious occasion of Sankranti is no exception. Skies are dotted with colourful kites, homes are decorated, sweets are exchanged, people bathe in holy rivers, perform pujas, and wear new, traditional, festive clothes in bright colours.

Makara Sankranti

Makara Sankranti is a harvest festival with special significance to the agricultural community in particular.  Farmers reap the fruits of their labour and pray for a good crop. Farm animals like cows and bulls are also decorated on this day. 


Sankranti


Why is it called Makara Sankranti? 

In the Vedas, Sankranti symbolizes the sun's movement from one zodiac constellation to the next. Makara means Capricorn, and the movement of the sun into the Makara Rashi or zodiac is called Makara Sankranti. 


Why this day is special in Nature? 

At the onset of Sankranti, the days get longer and warmer and the season shifts from winter to warmer days. The Sun God Surya is worshipped as he is regarded as the provider of food and life on earth. From this day onwards, the Sun begins its movement from Dakshinayana (South) to Uttarayana (North) hemisphere, marking the end of the winter season.


In the ancient scriptures, it is suggested that one should wake up just before sunrise and take a bath on the day of Makara Sankranti for a positive and auspicious start to the day. Mixing a small amount of ‘Ellu (sesame or til seeds) in your bath water is also recommended. After bathing, people pray to the Sun by chanting the Gayatri Mantra. Ayurveda suggests taking sesame seeds and Jaggery on this divine day. 


Importance of sesame in this festival

Sankranti and til (sesame) are synonymous as the festival is also commonly known as ‘Til Sankranti.’ Sesame seeds are believed to absorb negativity and improve the ‘Sattva’ – purity, goodness, and harmony, enabling spiritual practice. 


According to Hindu mythology, the God Yama blessed the sesame seed; hence, these seeds are regarded as the symbols of immortality. Therefore, the one who consumes sesame seeds in this particular season remains healthy. 



The Ayurveda wisdom

From an Ayurvedic perspective, sesame seed is sweet, bitter, pungent and astringent in taste. They absorb and enter the body channels very quickly. They are heavy (guru), unctuous (snigdha), deep penetrating (sukshma), and have a hot potency (ushna virya) with a sweet post-digestive effect (madhur vipaka). Sesame oil is so versatile that it is also used in Ayurveda for Abhyanga and has anti-bacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 


Variety of celebrations across India

 While most states in India have a unique way of celebrating this well-regarded harvest festival, the customs differ from state to state.


For example, in Southern India, houses are cleaned and doors are decorated with mango leaves. The entrances of homes display colorful rangoli art. People wear new clothes and exchange ellu-bella (sesame seeds and jaggery) with coconut pieces, groundnuts, bananas and sugarcane. Ladies & children also offer turmeric and Kumkum as they go about sharing ellu bella amongst their neighbourhood and with friends. 


In Tamil Nadu, particularly, the festival of Sankranti is called Thai Pongal & celebrated on a grand scale across three days dedicated to the earth mankind and on the last day to farm animals & livestock that support agriculture. 


The kite flying ritual is popular in the Northern part of India & is known to bring good fortune and foster good relationships and communal harmony. This ritual was believed to be introduced as a way to practice good health. The intent was to expose the body to the first light of the sun's rays early in the morning and enjoy the goodness of vitamin D while enjoying kite flying as a community. 


Another popular ritual is lighting bonfires. The festival of Sankranti is referred to as Lohri in the North. 


Food in Makara Sankranti

No festival is complete without food & the festival of Makara Sankranti has a variety of fresh seasonal produce which is prepared on this day. Pongal is a dish prepared in two ways, both as a savoury and a sweet rice pudding, and is popular in the South & Kichidi; a one-pot, hearty meal of rice, spices, seasonal vegetables and lentils in the North. These dishes are wholesome and nourishing & offer many health benefits & nutrition. 


Mythology behind Sankranti

According to Hindu scriptures, on the day of Makara Sankranti, Lord Vishnu defeated the demons by slaying their heads and burying them under a mountain. This act symbolises the end of negativity and negative energy & the beginning of good intentions to live well and prosper.


Therefore, this day is suitable for Sadhana – the spiritual practice or meditation, as the environment is full of ‘Chaitanya,’ meaning ‘cosmic intelligence’. It is also said that the Hindu deity, Sankranti, defeated a demon called Sankarasura on this fortunate day, which is a reason to celebrate all things good over negativity.

Conclusion

While each state has unique traditions from across the length and breadth of India, this festival is synonymous with joy, happiness and a sense of bonhomie. The bond that binds together families, communities and people is the spirit and intent of coming together, spreading good wishes and sharing festive delicacies with affection. This thoughtfulness and camaraderie lend a beautiful touch to the celebrations & fosters togetherness. It is indeed a true testimony of unity in diversity.


Happy Makara Sankranti!

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