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The Hindu Festival of
Makar Sankranti

The term sankranti means to begin moving. Astrologically as the sun moves from one zodiac to another Indians celebrate a sankranti. With the transition of the sun's position into Capricorn, it is time for Makara Sankranti (Makara means Capricorn). Makara Sankranti is usually observed twenty to twenty one days after the winter solstice. Since the Hindu calendar is based on the movements of the moon, the dates of the various festivals keeps changing. However, Makar Sankranti is the only Hindu festival based on the solar movement and so the date is always definite. It is held on the fourteenth of January every year. This festival marks the end of winter as the days begin to grow longer and the temperature gradually rises.

Many interesting mythological events mark the significance of this auspicious day. It is on this day that the sun is said to enter his son's abode. The son, who is Shani, is not always on good terms with his father. Yet the father stays at his place for a month signifying the eternal relation between son and father. It is on this day that Lord Vishnu is said to have killed all the demons thus marking the end of evil influence and the beginning of a new age of virtuous living.

The Makara Sankranti is the day when the Hindus worship their ancestors. It is meant to give them peace and joy in their afterlife. A holy dip in the Ganges River on this day is a must for many Hindus. Ascetics from far come to the Ganges for a bath to wash away the sins they have committed throughout their life. This festival marks the beginning of a period of spirituality, a virtuous life and prosperity. The happy celebration includes the distribution of sweets to all and alms to the needy.

In different parts of the India the Makara Sankranti is known by separate names. In the regions of West Bengal, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, it is called Makara Sankranti while in Tamil Nadu it is called Pongal. Uttarayan is what it is called in Rajasthan and Gujarat, so called because the sun keeps moving towards the north. In Punjab and Himachal Pradesh it is known as Lohri.

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