Makara literally means ‘Capricorn’ and Sankranti is the day when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to the next. The Sankranti of any month is considered auspicious as it signifies afresh start. However Makara Sankranti is celebrated in the month of Magha when the sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn.
According to Hindu mythology, one ‘human’ year of 365 days is equivalent to one day and night of the gods. Saur Varsh (solar year) is the period of during which the earth completes one circle of the sun. This going in circular from round the sun is called as Kranti Chakr (zodiac). Dividing this into twelve months makes twelve rashis (signs of zodiac). These have been named according to twelve constellations. The movement of one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti. Earth in Northern direction (Uttarayana) is called Makara Sankranti and Southern as Kark Sankranti (Dakshinayana). The movement of the sun from the northern tip to the southern tip during Shravan to Posh (July to December) is Dakshinayana and from Magh to Aasadd (January to June) from southern tip to northern tip is Uttarayana. The days are longer during uttarayana and are brighter. The opposite happens during dakshinayan.
According to Hindu scriptures, uttarayana period is gods day and Dakshinayan their night. Makara Sankranti marks the beginning of the day of the gods, which is equivalent to six solar months and is believed to be the auspicious part of the year. The previous six months, considered the night and therefore symbolic of darkness and evil, are inauspicious. Thus Makara Sankranti is the morning of the gods. On Makara Sankranti to receive the offerings, the gods and deities come to earth. On this day sacred souled religious people enter samadhis and give up life to achieve salvation and attain swarga (heaven).
Makara Sankranti is believed to be the time when Surya rides his chariot, drawn by seven horses, from the southern skies to the north. For the pastoral people therefore, it is of prime importance for it signifies the end of the winter and the ‘turning back’ of the sun to the north. This festival has been celebrated for thousands of years. Initially, this was probably a festival celebrated in the cold climate, when people prayed for the warmth of the sun. In all likelihood, the Aryans celebrated it, and continued to do so after migrating to India. Today, Makara Sankranti is celebrated throughout India as a harvest festival. It is a way of giving thanks to the elemets of nature that help man. This is the period when the winter recedes, paving the way for the summer. It is the time the farmers bring home their harvest. In the coast al regions, it is a harvest festival dedicated to Indra.