Makara Sankranti and Pongal


The day Makara-Saṃkrānti is dedicated to Sūrya, the Lord of the Sun.

On this auspicious day, usually the 14th of January, the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn (or Makar) which marks the end of winter month and the start of longer days. This is the beginning of the Hindu month of Magh. While Makar Sankranti is most popular in North India, down south, the festival is known as Pongal.


The middle of January marks the commencement of Uttarāyaṇa, as the sun ascends northwards, with longer days and shorter nights. While practically Uttarāyaṇa marks our transition from winter towards spring, symbolically Uttarāyaṇa also celebrates our own personal spiritual transition from the darkness of Avidyā towards the dawn of insight and discernment. In the skies, this also marks the transition of the sun into Makara Rāsi (Capricorn). As the process repeats time and time again in nature, this also stands as a reminder for us to realign ourselves to our personal goals in our quest for Truth. Pongal as celebrated in Tamil Nadu heralds all abundance and auspiciousness in our lives. We wish all of you a very happy Pongal and Makara Sankranti. May we be blessed by the benevolence of Sūrya. May we enjoy good health, peace and plenty by the radiance of Bhāskara. May we be ever inspired by the indwelling Savitṛ and may our paths be illumined by Mitra.



Makar Sankranti is set by the solar cycle and corresponds to the exact time astronomical event of the Sun entering Capricorn and is observed on a day that usually falls on 14 January of the Gregorian calendar, but on 15 January in leap years. Makar Sankranti's date and time is analogous to Sidereal time of Zodiac sign of Capricorn (when sun enters).

The year is 365.24 days long and the time difference between the two consecutive instances of Makar Sankranti is almost the same as the year. There are 365 days in a year. Thus, every four years the calendar is offset by one day which is adjusted by adding leap day (29 February). Hence, Makar Sankranti falls on the 15th of January every leap year.



Life on earth is made possible largely due to an important and never-failing phenomenon – the regular, periodic rising of the sun. It is no wonder that the sun is worshipped as a god by the ancient peoples of the world. It is said that one full year for us humans corresponds to one full day for the divine. Thus the night- time of the gods corresponds to that six-month period which ends on a day designated by Hindus as Makara Sankranti. A new day begins for the gods and for us on earth; when the generally southern direction of the sun (dakshinaayana) changes to a generally northern direction (uttaraayana). This point in time when dakshinaayana ends and uttaraayana begins, proclaiming a new day for the heavenly, is a cause for worship of the sun and a festival. It is also the time when the winter crop is harvested – another reason for feasting.

In many parts of India no wedding dates are set until after the celestial event referred to above, i.e. the change of direction of the sun. This change signals the beginning of all shubha-kaaryaas (auspicious undertakings).

The terrestrial year of 365 days is divided into twelve parts of approximately equal duration known as raashi in the zodiac. The position of the sun is determined on the basis of the zodiacal domain he is in. When the sun enters a raashi known as makara on a day in mid-January, the festival of Makarasankranti. is celebrated in many parts of India with great enthusiasm. The harvesting of the winter crop is the right time to pay respect to another important factor in any successful agricultural season – the cattle. The cows and bullocks are bathed and their horns are polished and painted with bright colors. Glittering gold dusting is applied over these colors. They are decorated with flowers, garlands and bells. New ropes are used to handle them. All the cattle along with their handlers are assembled in the evening in a central place in the village or town. They are then organized into a procession led by musicians playing pipes and drums. A huge fire is built along the way at an intersection and the cattle one by one are led to jump over the fire together with the persons goading them.

Both man and animal symbolically come through the fire as it were, signifying a triumph. They are now ready for a new season with all the evils warded off. Thus man worships the animals, expresses his gratitude and demonstrates a harmony with nature. Everyone is brought into a mood of expectation, enthusiasm and gaiety. When the procession reaches its designated end and the cattle are brought home, an arati is performed and they are given food to eat. Worships are offered in temples with sweet rice as prasad.

On this day in some parts of India, a mixture of sesame seeds, jaggery (brown sugar), dry coconut, and fried chaana (lentil) is offered to children when they go from one friend’s house to another to receive toys and sweets. Ordinarily sesame is not used in festivals but only during tarpana offerings saluting departed elders when death anniversaries are performed. An exception is made during Sankranti because the lord of makara raashi is believed to be Shani (Saturn), son of Soorya. Legend has it that the son and father are bitter enemies. As sesame is believed to be a favorite of Shani, it is offered to appease him and assure that the power of the Sun God is not diminished now that he is in the house of an enemy.

Soorya, as one among the navagrahaas (nine planets), is literally at the center of the cosmos and is worshipped first when navagraha aaraadhana is performed. Reference to Soorya is made in the Rigveda where he is considered as Brahma (creator) upon rising in the morning, as Vishnu (preserver) during mid-day and Rudra during setting (dissolution). Thus worship of Soorya in the Navagraha pujas is built into many rituals in Hindu theology.

Makara Sankranti is even more special because it was on this day, January 12, 1863 just a few minutes after sunrise, that the great rejuvenator of our faith, our spiritual hero the future Vivekananda, first drew breath when "the air above the sacred river not far from the house was reverberating with the prayers, worship and religious music of thousands of Hindu men and women.” (See Swami Nikhilananda, Vivekananda: The Yoga and Other Works, New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1953.)

Our joy in celebrating this festival at the beginning of a new year is thus doubled as we pay homage to the greatest of modern Hindu saints on this day reserved for the worship of the Sun God.

Excerpt From: How to Conduct Puja to Soorya

Dr. A. V. Srinivasan


On this day Hindu celebrate major cosmic changes, where Sun passes through the winter solstice. The 6 months of northern movement (uttarayana) of the sun is followed by 6 months of southern movement. As the sun enters the north boundary, the light increases. During this time, the rays of the sun also become straight on the earth. Due to the direct rays, heat also increases. In this way, the light of daylight also becomes for a long time. Due to the modularity of light, the importance of Uttarayan is given more importance. Due to this change, the sun falls on Uttarayan on 14 January and Dakshinayana on 16 July.

Makar sankranti is based on the position of the sun. Most of hindu festivals follow the position of the moon and based on lunar calender ,thus the dates of festivals change every year, but makar sankranti is a festival which falls on the same day every year as it is follows the solar calender. However once ever eighty years the day is postponed by one day. In ancient times, we used to consider the sun (solar) calendar as well.The Mayan Civilization of South America is a living example of this.The Mayan calendar was based on the Surya Siddhanta. The festival of Makar Sankranti is being celebrated on earth since 9000 BC. It is officially the beginning of spring. The days become longer, and the nights shorter.

Makar sankrati is also to honour and worship the river Saraswati, She is hindu goddess of learning and wisdom. All vedic learning is from the bank of the ancient river saraswati.

Yogini Shambhavi


The Winter Solstice is an important point of karmic reckoning, reflecting the influence of time, action and its consequences, in our whirlpools of worldly Maya.

The winter solstice is a very auspicious event in the Vedic calendar. It marks the beginning of a new cycle of time with corresponding rituals in the ancient Vedic system of fire worship. The winter solstice is a time at which we could say that the Sun or solar Godhead is reborn, reflecting the renewal of the Divine Self or inner Sun within us. The solar light is renewed and begins to lengthen once again ushering in another year.

In Vedic Astrology, the winter solstice is the first day of Uttarayana, the Sun’s six month journey northward. In the Mahabharata Bhimsa prolonged his death until the winter solstice so he could die in the auspicious time of Uttarayana.

The Winter Solstice, the sacried period of Uttarayana lures the soul to travel the path of deep searching. The Poornima (Full moon) after the solstice is a pivotal point to reconcile with the deeper self, literally shaking up one’s thoughts and aspirations which may have been blocked our conscious lifestyle. Only when we muster up courage to steer through the dark can we experience the light of dawn.



This time is most important for yogis to make a new, fresh effort in their spiritual process. Accordingly, people who have a family also make a fresh attempt in whatever they do in their lives.  According to Hindu tradition, the six months of Uttarayana are a single day of the Gods; the six months of Dakshinayana are a single night of the Gods. Thus a year of twelve months is a single day of the Gods.




Pongal is a multi-day Hindu harvest festival of South India, particularly in the Tamil community. It is dedicated to the Hindu sun god, the Surya, and corresponds to Makar Sankranti, the harvest festival under many regional names celebrated throughout India. The three days of the Pongal festival are called Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal and Maattu Pongal. Some Tamils celebrate a fourth day of Pongal as Kanum Pongal.

The festival is named after the ceremonial "Pongal", which means "to boil, overflow" and refers to the traditional dish prepared from the new harvest of rice boiled in milk with jaggery (raw sugar). To mark the festival, the pongal sweet dish is prepared, first offered to the gods and goddesses (goddess Pongal), followed sometimes with an offering to cows, and then shared by the family. Festive celebrations include decorating cows and their horns, ritual bathing and processions. It is traditionally an occasion for decorating rice-powder based kolam artworks, offering prayers in the home, temples, getting together with family and friends, and exchanging gifts to renew social bonds of solidarity.

On Bhogi, people discard old and derelict things and concentrate on new things causing change or transformation. At dawn, people light a bonfire with logs of wood, other solid-fuels and wooden furniture at home that are no longer useful to start the fresh accounts from next day which is the day one of the harvest.