Festivals and Seasons

Winter Solstice, Uttarayana, and Sankranthi


Happy Makara Sankranthi

What and Why of Makara Sankranthi

Makara Sankranti festival is both a seasonal observance as well as a religious celebration marking the transition of the Sun into the zodiacal sign of Makara (Capricorn) on its celestial path–the first change in the zodiac after the winter solstice and the first day of the month of Magha. Celebrated in various parts of the Indian subcontinent it marks the shift of the sun from longer nights to ever-lengthening days. It is a solar event making it one of the few Hindu festivals, which fall on the same date in Gregorian Calender every year: January 14 (leap years on 15th) and also one of those celebrated across almost all of India including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir Valley, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal.

Makara Sankranti is one of the few ancient Indian festivals that has been observed according to solar cycles, while most festivals are set by the lunar cycle of the lunisolar. It is also known as Uttarayana (beginning of the Uttarayana Punyakala) in the Hindu calendar, dedicated to the deity Surya (sun). It is observed each year in the lunar month of Magha which corresponds with the month of January as per the Gregorian calendar and is a day the people of India celebrate their harvest— hence called a harvest festival. It marks the first day of the sun’s transit into Makara rashi (Capricorn), marking the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days

Lunisolar Calendar

A calendar in which the date indicates both the Moon phase and the time of the solar year is called a lunisolar calendar. Lunisolar calendars are lunar calendars with – in contrast to them – additional intercalation rules being used to bring them into a rough agreement with the solar year and thus with the seasons. Their months are based on the regular cycle of the Moon’s phases. If the solar year is defined as a tropical year, then a lunisolar calendar will give an indication of the season; if it is taken as a sidereal year, then the calendar will predict the constellation near which the full moon may occur.

Most cultures such as Hellenic, Babylonian, Hebrew, Buddhist, Hindu and others follow a lunisolar calendar. Both Buddhist and Hindu calendars are sidereal lunisolar.

The synchronization of the moon months with the Sun Year

There is an additional requirement that the year has a whole number of months. Therefore ordinary years consist of twelve months but every second or third year is an embolismic year, which adds a thirteenth intercalary, embolismic, or leap month.

The Hindu Calendar still shifts slowly with respect to seasons due to the precession of the Earth’s axis. As a result Uttrayana (Makar-Sankranti or Pongal, marking the day of the year when Sun starts moving towards Uttar (North) which is usually celebrated around January 14th, actually falls on 22nd of December as it is on this date that the Sun is at the southernmost point, as seen from Earth. If it continued in the same way, after about 11,000 years, Sankranthi will occur in June, Deepavali will then be celebrated around April and Sawan-Bhadon will no longer imply torrential rains.

Happy Sankranthi!

Enjoy your “YELLU BELLA”


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