For India, a sun-blessed/ baked country, Makar Sankranti is an auspicious day given the relative gloom that precedes it. For us, the Sun symbolizes everything positive in strength, character, looks and attitudes and is said to drive away negativity, despondence and evil. The day coincides with harvest times and most of India celebrates it with gaiety while thanking the almighty for all the bounties around.
The Punjab also calls it Maghi, the day of martyrdom of 40 Sikhs for their last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The next day, “Lohri” symbolizes the arrival bountiful harvests and represents the harvest aspect of Makar Sankranti. Huge bonfires light up the night sky and sweets made of sesame seeds (til, tilli etc for Indians) are passed around while swaying to Bhangra.
The entire North India has to have a dip in the Ganges, Yamuna and other rivers while paying obeisance to the Sun God during uttarayana and Makar Sankranti Muhurat. Later in the day sweets are distributed and people fly kites as it is quite windy during these times.
Maharashtra celebrates the day with visits to near and dear ones over “Til-gul” and other sesame delights. The festival here can be summed up in one line: “Til-gul ghya, god, god bola”! Eat sweet & talk sweeter! And yes, fly kites given that winters are windy in these parts too.
The South celebrates this as Pongal in Tamil Nadu when the new harvest of rice is prepared in a traditional way with tamarind and turmeric. In Kerala, the Makar Sankranti Punyakaal has special significance for the devotees of Ayyappa Swami at Sabarimala who get to see the Makara Jyoti marking the end of the 40 days of “Anusthana” or penance observed by the devout.
The North-East celebrates it as Poush Sankranti for the month in which it falls. A harvest festival, people prepare sweets of rice, milk and plam jaggery, the last, a local delicacy. The Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi is propitiated and so too God Shiva.
Makar Sankranti is then is yearly-occurring geographic incidence which besides being geographically significant is also viewed as a harvest festival when people come out of their houses, pray to the sun and hope for another year of prosperity and bounties! Most thankfully do get it!