Makar Sankranti festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fanfare all across India. It is primary a harvest festival dedicated to sun. On the day of Makar Sankranti the sun begin its northward movement in to the zodic sign of makar (Capricorn).
Makar Sankranti is known as Uttarayan in Gujarat. Uttarayan is a significant festival in Gujarat which lasts for two days. The main day of Makar Sankranti is known as Uttarayan and the next day of Uttarayan is known as Vasi Uttarayan or stale Uttarayan. The day is considered highly auspicious and is dedicated to Lord Surya.
In Tamil Nadu people celebrate Makar Sankranti as Pongal. Pongal is celebrated for four days but the most important day of Pongal festivity is known as Thai Pongal and it is celebrated on Makar Sankranti day. Thai Pongal is followed by Mattu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal. The day before Thai Pongal is known as Bhogi.
In Andhra Pradesh, similar to Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti is celebrated for four days. The day before Sankranti is known as Bhogi Pandigai. The main Sankranti day is known as Pedda Panduga, which is followed by Kanuma Panduga and Mukkanuma.
In Kerala, the most important event on Makar Sankranti is Makaravilakku. The world famous Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple celebrates Sankranti during evening by lighting Makaravilakku. Makaravilakku is artificial light that is created three times at a distant hill. Thousands of devotees wait for Makaravilakku as it symbolizes celestial lighting at Sabarimala Hills.
All rituals during Makar Sankranti are gestures of thanksgiving to natural resources which make life possible on the Earth. The Sun God is worshipped for bestowing good harvest and nurturing livestock. The cattle especially bulls and oxen are worshipped for their significance in traditionally ploughing fields.
In North India people take holy dip in Ganga on Makar Sankranti day. Thousands of people throng Hindu pilgrimage places like Haridwar, Banaras and Allahabad to take holy dip in Ganga. It is believed that holy dip in Ganga on Sankranti purges all sins committed by the person. Makar Sankranti is also the main bathing day at Ganga Sagar Mela which is held near Kolkata. Sikh community especially in Punjab and Haryana celebrates Lohri one day before Sankranti. the most auspicious occasions celebrated by Hindus in all parts of India as well as Hindu communities such as Nepal and others.
This festival gives us a message that we should gradually begin to nurture transparency, knowledge and awareness as the sun does from this day and perform our duties without execrating any return. It is considered to the period of spiritual enlightenment, serenity, opulence, and delight followed by a period of ignorance and enormous sorrow.