Certain Hindu festivals are associated with the annual cycle of seasons. Pongal in the South and Sankranti in the North are celebrated to mark the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons as well as the reaping of the harvest. Pongal festivities are spread over several days. Like Deepawali in the north, the advent of Pongal is associated with spring-cleaning and burning of junk, symbolizing the destruction of evil.
Decorative designs or rangolis are traced on floors and on the day of the Pongal, the newly harvested rice is cooked in homes to acclaim the bounty of the gods.
UTTARAAYANA PUNYA-KAALA This holy day marks the commencement of the Sun’s northern course in the Heavens – the Uttaraayana patha. This turn in the Sun’s course takes place at the point of time when it enters the sign of Makara or Capricorn. From this day the day-duration increases and the night decreases. It is the harbinger of more light and sunshine in life and lessening of its darker aspects. This happy occasion is termed as Pongal in Tamilnadu and as Khichadi in northern Bharat – both of them being names of sweet delicacies specially prepared on that day! Light symbolizes the warmth, i.e., the love and affection, the quality of the heart.
In many areas of Bharat, this is symbolized by the distribution of til-gul – the til seed and jaggery. The til brimming with fragrant and delicious oil, stands for friendship and comradeship and jaggery for the sweetness of speech and behavior. The distribution of til-gul, therefore, forms a touching aspects of the Makara Sankramana celebration.
On the social plane, the Sankraanti carries a vital significance for national welfare. It is the warmth of love and fellow-feeling among the people of a country that ultimately makes them stand up in unison in adversity or in prosperity. It is the necessary lubricant to make the nation’s machine work smoothly without friction. Even the great precepts of `liberty’ and `equality’ lose their meaning without the basic requisite of `fraternity’ among the people. Fraternity alone will ensure a spirit of selfless service and sacrifice in the cause of fellow countrymen. Selfishness – the ultimate destructor of the social fabric – is cured and social consciousness generated where a spirit of fraternity is alive.
Sankraanti, signifying light, also gives the message of intellectual illumination. It is the capacity to discriminate between the right and the wrong, the just and the unjust, truth and falsehood, virtue and vice. It is this discriminative wisdom – Viveka – which leads the individual on the path of human evolution and human happiness. Mere dry reasoning power devoid of this insight will be like the charging of a wild horse without the stirrup and the rider. The present-day galloping race of science and technology is indeed turning the modern civilization into such a `wild horse’. The looming and growing catastrophic consequences of air, water and soil pollutions are a few instances of how far our modern intellect has strayed away from the true path of intellectual enlightenment.
Mahabhaarata defines pursuit of truth and real knowledge as that which leads to the welfare of all living beings – Yad bhootahitamatyantam tat satyamiti dhaaranaa. It is this supreme light and intelligence coupled with the warmth of the heart alone that can ultimately lead to all-round human harmony and happiness. The break of dawn heralding light also signifies the awakening of man from sleep. A day of physical, mental and intellectual activity ensues. It rouses the faculties of endeavour and diligent pursuit of one’s duties in life. Sloth, indolence and sluggishness are shaken off giving place to vigor, vitality and manly efforts.
The Hindu philosophy has eulogized human endeavour as a supreme value without which nothing worth while can be achieved in life. Says a Subhaashita:
Shadete yatra vartante tatra devaassahaayakrit ||
The Gods will help those who display the six attributes of endeavour, daring, fortitude, wisdom, strength and valour. The very last shloka of Bhagavad Gita also highlights the supreme necessity of the human efforts in every field of human attainment:
Tatra shreervijayo bhootirdhruvaa neetirmatirmama ||
Where Lord Krishna the master of yoga is, and Arjuna, great among archers, there, surely enough, is wealth, victory and glory.
Makara Sankramana gives the call for the awakening of all these latent powers in man not only for the flowering of his individual personality to its fullest unfoldment but also for the well-being and glory of society as a whole. It is for this holy day that Bhishma, after laying down his arms in the Mahaabhaarata war and lying on a bed of arrows, waited to give up his body. For, as the tradition goes, a person dying on this day reaches the Abode of Light and Eternal Bliss.
The biggest Mela – religious fair – on the face of the earth is held once in twelve years of Prayaag, the holy confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati. The Kumbha Mela which is now-a-days drawing nearly one crore of devotees – drawn from all castes and creeds, sects and languages and provinces, saints and commoners – is the most inspiring testimony to the intrinsic cultural unity of the Hindu world.
It was in the Kumbha Mela of 1966 that the all-world organization of Hindus, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, held its first momentous World Hindu Meet. The Jagadgurus and Dharmaachaaryas, the Mathadhipatis and the scholars of all sects and creeds present there resolved to do away with the perversions which had entered into the Hindu society and to give it a new and dynamic thrust so as to make it capable of facing the many old and new challenges.
The birth of Swami Vivekananda on the Sankramana day is an inspiring indication of the passing of the long night of self-oblivion and birth of an effulgent era of resurgent Hinduism. Synchronising of one of their greatest festivals with an extremely meaningful and regular phenomenon of nature speaks of an innate quality of Hindus. They look upon themselves as children of Mother Nature and strive to sip her milk of bounty in all fields, and seek to unfold all the qualities of their body, the head and the heart. In short, Makara Sankramana embodies the ardent prayer of every Hindu heart –
Lead me, O Lord, from untruth to Truth from darkness to Light and from death to Immortality.