Makar Sankranti: A Solar and Pastoral Festival of India

Sankranti (also called Pongal) is a Hindu festival celebrated in January and although there are twelve days associated with this, usually only three are celebrated. The last day is on January 14th and it is the biggest and most important. This is because the sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. On this day, Indians worship the cattle (ormattu). The cattle are bathed, painted in bright colors with their horns polished and flower garlands hung around their necks.

The first and second day of Sankranti is celebrated with the exchange of gifts among the family,that remind Indians to be thankful. Prayers are offered to the Sun God for a good harvest. Sweet rice and rangoli are made throughout the festivities. Rangoli are geometric designs filled with rice or sand that is colored. These can be made on the wall or the floor but are usually created outside the houses. It is a very popular art form in India and is also called sand painting. Unmarried women paint these during the month of Maarkazhi when they pray in hopes of good fortune, like the Goddess Andal did, when she prayed to Lord Thirumal to marry her.

The celebration is sometimes called the “festival of flying kites”. During the third day the skies in India are brightly colored with kites. Hindu’s have fun “fighting” or “running” with ones made of special string. It is important for people in India to get out in the sun as the day marks the beginning of the harvest season and of warmer days.

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