The festival of Uttarayan is celebrated to mark the beginning of harvest in India but there's another side to it. Read further to know the history of Makar Sankranti and why it is celebrated.
Makar Sankranti is probably the first festival that sparks the wave of other celebrations in India. This day is celebrated on January 14 in various parts of India to show gratitude to crops and the sun but that is not it, this festival holds great significance in Hindu mythology and is even mentioned in the epic Mahabharata.
The legends of Sankranti
As per the legends, a devil named Sankarasur used to torture and kill people on Earth without rhyme or reason. On hearing this, Devi Sankranti landed on Earth and killed the devil in a fierce battle. Thus, Makar Sankranti got its name from Devi Sankranti and is celebrated to mark the defeat of Sankrasura. The day after, Devi slayed another demon Kinkarasur. Hence, the day following Makar Sankranti is also called Karidin or Kinkrant (from the name of Kinkarasur).
Another legend links Makar Sankranti to the epic Mahabharata. Bhishma Pitamah the supreme commander of the Kaurava forces during the Kurukshetra War was wounded by the arrows and suffered till the onset of Uttarayan. He attained moksha during the period of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. Hence, it is also believed that people who die on this day achieve moksha.
Why is it celebrated?
Now that we know the history behind the festival, let's look at why it is celebrated according to the Hindu religion. The day of Sankranti marks the transition of Suryadev (sun) from one Rashi (zodiac sign) to another. The sun begins its journey toward the northern hemisphere as it moves from Dakshinayan (south) to Uttarayan (north) hemisphere. Hence, this festival is also called Uttarayan in Gujarat. It is significantly celebrated on the 14th of the first month which is somewhat around 21 days after the tropical winter solstice which takes place between December 20 to 23.
The sun finally moves from Dhanu Rashi (Sagittarius zodiac sign) to Makar Rashi (Capricorn zodiac sign) which is why the prefix 'Makar'. According to the solar calendar, the day and the night measure the same duration of hours on this day. After which the days become longer and the nights become shorter. The sun's rays also start to sign brighter.
Bonus Bite: It is believed that the Aryans celebrated this auspicious day to mark the beginning of crop cultivation and hence it is celebrated as the harvest festival across various parts of India.
Hope you got the answer on the history of the festivity!