When a Nation Worships the Sun : Tradition of Makara Sankranti Across India

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The Sanskrit term Sankranti means “change” or a momentous transformation. The festival of Makara Sankranti in Hindu culture, celebrated in January, comes when Surya, the Sun god changes his course, moving from the Dhanu Rashi (Sagittarius) to Makara (Capricorn) or from the Southern to Northern Hemisphere. The change is not just in the route of the Sun, but also in the mood and attitude of the people of India, who have learned the art of being in sync with nature and natural phenomena from their Vedic ancestors. Societies in India, from North to South observe Sankranti as a festival of new beginnings when the hard work of farmers is reaped and wealth, auspiciousness and joy enter the home.

With regalia and food, the days of Makara Sankranti are celebrated differently in each region of India. At the core of these seemingly varied festivities are the essential values of Indianess- a sense of community, following the cycles of nature, and sharing one’s happiness with the family. A running theme in the festivities of India on Makara Sankranti is the worship of the Sun god and the cooking of local delicacies which are shared amongst family members with love and blessings. People wake up before sunrise, take a ritual bath in holy rivers or a pious water reservoir close to them, get dressed in traditional Indian clothes, perform Puja and bask in the soothing warmth of the Sun and their families. Let us take you on a Bhaarat-Yaatra, traveling through different regions of India, to observe the vibrant beauty of its diverse yet united culture, on the occasion of Makara Sankranti.  On our journey, you will get to meet the local dishes and culture, while getting a few tips in festive ethnic style from the women of India.

Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh

In these northern and central states of India, Makara Sankranti comes as Sankranti, Sakat, or Khichdi (Bihar). The abundance of fields and change in weather signals the arrival of agricultural and material wealth in the home. People with their families visit the Ghat (banks) of holy rivers such as Ganga, Yamuna, and Kshipra to take a dip in the waters. Dishes like Khichdi (a savory porridge of lintel and rice) and Dahi-Chura (curd and flattened rice) are prepared by women of the family. Popular choices of traditional attire on the occasion of Makara Sankranti pooja in these states include a colorful Banarasi sarees, with ethnic brocade work and embroidery on silk, which is an excellent fabric for winters. Chanderi sarees, local textiles of Madhya Pradesh are also preferred by the women of these states, to get a beautiful look for the festivities of the day.


Young women dressed in colorful suits and sarees with Phulkari embroidery- intricate needlework that creates floral (Phul) patterns on the fabric roam in the Mela (fairs) in the day and people gather around the fire and sing and dance, rejoicing on successful products for the year. This is the picture of Punjab on Makara Sankranti, where the festival is called “Maaghi”, marking the beginning of the month of Magh according to the Hindu Panchang (calendar). A special dish known as “Rahu di Kheer”, made by mixing rice with sugarcane juice is prepared the night before and then savored the next morning on Maghi, with curd. A state whose roots are deeply connected with nature and agriculture, Punjab during Makara Sankranti bustles with joy which is seen in its food, celebrations, and ethnic attires.

Rajasthan and Gujarat

The culturally vibrant western states achieve a heart-warming beauty during Makara Sankranti or Uttarayana (shift to Uttar or North, of the Sun), thanks to the group of Bandhani and Leheriya-clad women, along with their kin, standing on their rooftops to enjoy the kite-flying competitions, a local tradition of these states which has now taken an international turn. In Rajasthan, the women invite their female relatives for a “Sankrant Bhoj” (feast) where they collectively relish a hearty plate of dishes including sweets made from Til (sesame) and Gur (jaggery). The people of Gujarat host the annual International Kite flying festival, in a wonderful celebration of their customs and culture with a worldwide audience. Undiyu or Undiyo, a simple dish made from vegetables grown in winter is the staple of the Gujrati people on Uttarayan.

Tamil Nadu

If you get to visit the spiritually endowed state of Tamil Nadu during Makara Sankranti, you will find women and girls wrapped neatly in the traditional Kanjivaram sarees, with flowers in their braids and buns, making Kolam (rangoli, art on the floor) and celebrating the festival of Pongal. Observed with great fanfare, Pongal (to overspill) in South India, especially Tamil Nadu is named after the custom of cooking freshly harvested rice with milk and gur. As the pot of these ingredients overflows, people cheer and pray for uncontainable abundance in their lives. The festivities expand over four days, beginning with Bhogi Pongal and ending with Kanum Pongal.

West Bengal

Posh Sankranti or Poush Praban in West Bengal is centered around the worship of the great goddess, in her form as Lakshmi. The Puja is known as Bahar Lakshmi Pooja (Bahar-outside), in which the goddess is asked to bestow upon her devotees her blessings and give them wealth and abundance for the rest of the year. Bengali women, decked up in fine silk Baluchari sarees or the comfortable Kantha embroidered sarees add to the merriment of this occasion with the home-cooked Pitha, a Bengali sweet prepared after mixing coconut, milk, and Khajur gur (jaggery made from dates) with grounded rice.


Home to the famous Sun Temple of Konark, Puri district, Odisha celebrates Makara Sankranti with Makara Mela, a grand fair dedicated solely to this change in the course of Surya Deva and the harvesting of crops. Devout followers of Sri Jagannatha visit the ancient shrine on this day and perform Puja to their deity and the Sun god for their unwavering blessings. The richness of these festivities is amplified by the local people, especially the women who take out their Bomkai sarees, the traditional women’s wear of Orissa, which is closely associated with every festival and grand celebration of the state. Makara Chaula, an Oriya cuisine made from milk, rice, jaggery, banana, sugarcane, and chenna (a kind of cheese) is the favorite dish of the people of Orissa during this festival, whose fresh ingredients represent a thriving harvest season for them.


A boiling pot of Tibetan local customs and Indian culture, Assam’s celebration of Makara Sankranti as Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu is characterized by food, bonfire, and games. The eve of Bihu or Uruka is spent getting ready for the festivities of the next day. A ritual fire known as Meji becomes the nucleus of community gatherings, which soon turn into a haven for any lover of traditional Indian fashion and food. Womenfolk of the community dressed in Muga silk sarees which are covered in ethnic motifs flaunt the charm of Indian ethnic wear, as they perform a folk dance around the bonfire.

Even though there is no single, common name or way of celebrating Makara Sankranti in India, the festival gives you one of those rare moments, in which the fact of India’s “unity in diversity” can be appreciated in all its glory. As one learns about the regional variations of Sankranti in the country, a unified picture begins to appear. A picture that is complemented by delicious food, luxurious Indian ethnic fashion, and a collective awareness of the role of mother nature in human life. It is in these festivals celebrated throughout the country, that the splendor of the ancient spirit of Hindu culture can be witnessed.

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