The term Uttarāyaṇa (also known as Uttarayan) is derived from two different Sanskrit words “uttara” (North) and “ayana” (movement) indicating the northward movement of the Earth on the celestial sphere.
Uttarayan is also known as Makar Sankrant and in India it is celebrated with various names. India being a land of agriculture, this harvest time is a major reason of celebration for our farmers. It is basically the movement of the Sun from South to North. considered as a symbol of positivity. During this period, the Sun travels from Capricorn to Cancer that is from South to North. In Hindi it is: [उत्तरायण = उत्तर (North) + आयन].
It is a six months long period. During Uttarayan days are longer and nights are shorter.
This was all about understanding Uttarayan scientifically. Now let us throw some light on the religious angle. It is one of the most ancient festivals of India, dedicated to the sun god. It marks the arrival of spring and is associated with different rituals and traditions. Flying kites, preparing sweets with jaggery and sesame seeds, meeting loved ones and exchanging greetings and sweets, form an integral part of this joyous and colourful festival all across the country.
Being a gujju, brought up in Bangalore and living in Mumbai, has helped me witness this marvelous festival in all its various glories. At least let’s talk about how Uttarayan is celebrated in these three zones of India. I think it’s most vibrant in Gujarat with the kite flying tradition. You’ll be surprised to know how it all started. The festival marks the arrival of the harvest season, indicating the end of winter. Traditionally, people believed that winter brought in a lot of germs and caused sickness. Therefore, a large number of people would be seen during Makar Sankranti to bask in the early morning sun, wanting to get rid of bacteria and also fly kites in the process. Flying kites started to make morning sun gazing more exciting.
The sky is filled with kites as people enjoy two full days of Uttarayan on their terraces. The air is filled with echoes of loud screams of “Kaypo chhe!” Families relish typical traditional delicacies like Undhiyu and chikki. In recent times kite flying has become an international competitive event. The sky is embellished with a vast variety of different types of kites.
Now coming to Machi Mumbai. The first thing that comes to my mind is “तिळगुळ घ्या, आणि गोड-गोड बोला (til-gud ghyaa, aani goad-goad bola)” means, ‘Accept these sweets and utter sweet words.’ People exchange till-gud as a token of goodwill. The basic idea is to forgive and forget the past, resolve conflicts, talk nicely and remain friends. Women come together and perform a special ‘Haldi-Kumkum’ ceremony.
Makara Sankranti is celebrated in Karnataka with a ritual called “Ellu Birodhu” where women exchange “Ellu Bella” (regional delicacies cooked with freshly cut sugarcane, sesame seeds, jaggery and coconut). This Kannada proverb is popular – “ellu bella thindu olle maathadi” Which means ‘eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good.’
Farmers celebrate as “Suggi” or ‘harvest festival’ and decorate their bulls and cows with colourful clothes. Farmers jump over fire along with their bulls, in a ritual called “Kichchu Haayisuvudu.”
Having said all this, the best aspect about all our Indian festivals is that people of all religions come together to celebrate with equal measure of enthusiasm. It’s more like a national festival than a religious one. That is the true beauty of our unity in diversity. I’d like to end with heartfelt greetings for all our readers,
“May you always soar high
Like the kites in the sky.
Happy Makar Sankranti.”