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Sankranti means the transitory movement of the Sun from one constellation of Zodiac (Rashi) to another. Sankranti is also marked as beginning of the month as per the vedic calendar and is dedicated to the Sun God. There are 12 Sankrantis in a year, Makara Sankranti, Kumbha Sankranti, Meena Sankranti, Mesha Sankranti, Vrishabha Sankaranti, Mithuna Sankranti, Karka Sankranti, Simha Sankranti, Kanya Sankranti, Tula Sankranti, Vrischika Sankranti and Dhanu Sankranti. Most adhered and significant is the Makara Sankranti that is celebrated during the month of January throughout India.
Makara Sankaranti is a multifaceted festival which is celebrated as per the tradition and culture of each state. This day has celestial and spiritual significance. It is during this day the Sun starts its journey towards the northern direction. In other words, it on this day the Sun moves from Tropic of Capricorn (Dakshinayanam) to Tropic of Cancer (Utharayanam). As per the scriptures, the Uthirayanam period from Jan 14th to July 15th is the day time for the deities and celestial beings. When the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn (Makara), the days become longer than the nights. It marks a new beginning. The efforts put in during this time bear the desired fruits. All auspicious events are conducted during this time. This is the period of peace, prosperity, happiness. This is the time for purification, gaining knowledge and wisdom as the Sun signifies light and brightness.
The great Bishmachariyar, the grandsire of the Pandavas and Kauravas of Mahabharatha had decided to give up his life on this day. He left to the heavenly abode on in the Uthrayana Punnia Kalam – makara sankaranti day. It is believed that people who pass away during the utharayana period attain salvation.
This is also one of the most important days for performing oblations (tarpanam) for ancestors and to release them to the next level or help them to attain salvation.
In the ancient days when nature Gods were worshipped, Surya and Indra are the Chief of these Gods whom people worshipped for rain and abundance. Harvest takes place before the month Thai and the grains produced are given as offerings to these Gods as a thanks giving. People have celebrations after hard work and enjoy the bounty gifted to them by nature Gods.
Makara Sankaranthi is known as Thai Pongal in Tamil Nadu, the southern part of India. This festival falls on the 1st of the Vedic month called Thai, (Thai month is between Jan 14th to Feb 15th of every year) which denotes the end of winter and Pongal falls in Hemantha ruthu (season). This festival also denotes the coming of Vasantha Ruthu. Thai Pongal is celebrated as a four day festival in Tamil Nadu.
The last day of Margazhi is called Bhogi Pongal and this is equated with Indra Vizha celebrated by the Tamils especially in Poombukar, praising Lord Indra. It was to honor the God of thunder and rain. On this day people give away all the old things, clean the space and prepare themselves for the new beginning. In other words, this is a purification process of oneself shunning away their ego, negative qualities and thoughts and preparing them to receive the light from the Sun which signifying purity, knowledge and wisdom.
Thai Pongal is the most important of the four days and is celebrated as thanks giving to Lord Surya, the Sun God. Lord Surya is the son of Kasyapa and Athithi and in all astronomy and astrology he occupies the prime place. For many changes in the climatic condition the Sun God is responsible. He is worshipped and his greatness is celebrated in Rig, Yajur and Saama Vedhas. Like Lord Mahavishnu, the Sun God also has Kanch and the Chakra and that’s why he is called as Surya Narayana. The power sports of Lord Surya or the Sun are in Konark (Orissa), Arasavilli (Andra), Bhatiapara in Assam and the Suriynar Koil in Tamil Nadu.
People make Pongal on this day which is a combination of Rice, jiggery and ghee. This Pongal is cooked in a mud pot and as the milk added to it froths out of the pot people blow Conch and shout with joy “Pongalo Pongal”. The mud pot are tied with turmeric saplings.. Poojas are performed and the pongal is offered to the Sun first and then it is distributed. Sugar canes are offered in the pooja. This signifies welcoming the new energy and accepting the light.
The third day of Thai Pongal is celebrated as Mattu Pongal. In order to honor the cattle which help the farmers to produce crops. The horns of the bulls and the cows are painted; they are given bath, decorated with silk cloth and flowers and worshipped. Then they are taken in procession.
This day is also called “Kanu Pongal” which is celebrated by women for the welfare of their brothers. Before dawn women get up, spread leaves from the turmeric sapling and keep different kinds of rice, vegetables and plantain on the leaves saying the following verses
“KanupudiVachen, KakapidiVachen, Kakaikuellamkalyanam”.
A brother in return, as a mark of their love for sisters, gifts them.
This day is celebrated by preparing and offering different kinds of rice.
The fourth and the final day is known as Kaanum Pongal when the family members get together. It is Kaanum (to see) which means all relatives meet, see and spend time together and exchange sweets and gifts and a family they go to the river banks and spend time.
In villages, folk dances like Karakattam, Kummy, Mayilattam and Oyilattam are all performed on the festival days. Opportunities are given to the performers to exhibit their talents. The local people and the tourists enjoy the celebrations. Special poojas are performed in the temples. Kaanum Pongal is today called as Thiruvalluvar day, in memory of the great Tamil poet Valluvar.