Joy of Uttarayan: A Guide to the Festival

Joy of Uttarayan: A Guide to the Festival

Mar 01, 2024Soubhagya Barick

Uttarayan holds immense astrological and traditional importance and it is celebrated on the day the Sun transitions from the Dhanussu Rashi or Sagittarius, to Makar Rashi, or Capricorn, heralding the harvest season and arrival of spring.

Uttarayan or the Makar Sankranti brings hope, harvest, and prosperity. This is also the time for special rituals that are forbidden during Dakshinayan.

Almost all the states of India celebrate this Uttarayan festival with varied festivities including singing and dancing. In northern India, the festival is known as Lohri, while in Assam it is called Bhogali Bihu.
In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it is known as Sankranti. Telugu-speaking regions of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana celebrate the first festival of Uttarayan as Bhogi. Tamil Nadu celebrates the four-day event of Uttarayan Sankranti with Pongal and the popular event of Jallikattu.

Let’s welcome the Uttarayan festival for the good harvest it brings and offer our prayers, seeking solutions to life’s challenges in our traditions and spiritual practices.

Difference between Uttarayan and Dakshinayan

  • Dakshinayan begins with Ashadhamaas in Grishma Ritu and ends with Paushmaas in Hemant Ritu. During this southern run, what is below the Anahata Chakra is given importance for purification.
  • Uttarayan begins on the day of Makar Sankraman in Paush Maas and ends with Karkatak Sankraman in Ashadh Maas. During this northern run, what is above the Anahata can be given priority for purification. Hence, in terms of Sadhana or penances, Dakshinayana is for purification. 
  • Uttarayana is for enlightenment. This is the period of receptivity, of grace and enlightenment, of attainment of the ultimate. This is the time to harvest both on the ground and in the mind.

As the Uttarayan is fast approaching and around the corner, let’s take a deep dive into the festivals and rituals in this half.

What is Uttarayan and special about Uttarayan Festivities? 

  • Generally, Uttarayan festivities last for two to four days in various regions of India. Worshipping Lord Soorya (Sun) is an important part of the Uttarayan festival. Other spiritual practices are a holy dip in sacred water bodies like rivers or seas or the Tirtha Kshetras.
  • Offering Tarpans to Pitru Devatas is part of Makar Sankraman. Performing charity by giving to the needy, flying kites, preparing sweets made of sesame and jaggery, offering Pooja to livestock, and many more.
  • Many Sarp Dosh Nivaran Pujas like Ashlesha Bali, Naga Pratishta, Kaala Sarpa Shanti Sarpa Samskara Pujas, and many others are performed in the Uttarayan season for better and greater results. You can read more about Sarp Dosh Nivaran Pujas here.

Uttarayan in Hinduism and Puranas

  • According to the epic Mahabharat, Bhishma (Born as Devavrat or Gangeya), had the boon of Icchamaran (choosing his own time and day of death) and Bhishma had waited for the sun to be in Uttarayan to embrace death.
  • This is also the time when the sun begins to move North and before Uttarayan, the sun shines on the southern hemisphere.
    Hindus believe this period to be auspicious and look forward to celebrating Uttarayana.
  • Gautama also attained on the third full moon day after Uttarayana. In South India, there are examples of innumerable saints, sages, siddhas, and yogis who have made the transition during this period.

Pongal in South India

  • The harvest festival of Pongal in South India which includes the regions of Kannada-speaking, and Tamil-speaking regions, has its unique regional significance. 
  • Agricultural harvests begin during this period. So it is not only the time of harvesting food grains, but also the time to harvest human potential.

Importance of makar sankranti in Karnataka

“ಎಳ್ಳು ಬೆಲ್ಲ ತಿಂದು ಒಳ್ಳೆ ಮಾತಾಡಿ” (Ellu-Bella thindu olle maataadi)

Meaning ‘Do good and talk good, eat the til and jaggery mixture” is a popular saying about Makar Sankranti in Karnataka.

  • The significance of this exchange is that sweetness should prevail in all dealings.
  •  In Karnataka, the festival is simply called 'Sankranti', and cows and bullocks are gaily decorated and fed 'Pongal'- a sweet preparation of rice.
  • Special prayers are offered in the temples and houses. In the evening, the cattle are led out in procession to the beat of drums and music. In the night a bonfire is lit and the animals are made to jump over the fire.

Participate in Chauthi Special Dhurva Ganapati Homam on 15th Jan 2024

Pongal Festival in Tamil Nadu (Thai Pongal)

  • Pongal is a four-day-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India.
  • The word ‘Pongal’ takes its name from the Tamil word meaning "to boil off", and is held in the month of Thai (January-February) during the season when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane, and turmeric are harvested.
  • Tamilians say 'Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum', and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of the Tamil month Thai which begins on Pongal day.
    This is also the month of weddings among the Tamil speaking.

Participate in Panchami Special Varahi Homam on 15th Jan 2024

Pongalu in Telugu Desam

- This first day is celebrated as Bhogi festival in honor of Lord Indra, the supreme ruler of Swargalok and clouds that give rains. Homage is paid to Lord Indra for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land. Another ritual observed on this day is ‘Bhogi Mantalu’ – a bonfire when useless household articles are thrown into a fire made of wood and cow-dung cakes. Girls dance around the bonfire, singing songs in praise of the gods, the spring, and the harvest.

- On the second day of Pongal, the freshly harvested rice is boiled in milk outdoors, in an earthenware pot and is then symbolically offered to Lord Surya, along with other oblations. Everyone wears traditional dress and markings.

- The third day is known as ‘Mattu Pongal’, the day of Pongal for cows. Multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn, and flower garlands are tied around the neck of the cattle and then are worshiped. They are fed with Pongal and taken to the village centers. The resounding of their bells attracts the villagers as the young men race cattle. The entire atmosphere becomes festive and full of fun and festivity.

- The Fourth day is known as Kanu or Kannum Pongal day. On this day, a turmeric leaf is washed and then placed on the ground. On this leaf are placed, the leftovers of sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice colored red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains.

- The Fourth day is known as Kanu or Kannum Pongal day. On this day, a turmeric leaf is washed and then placed on the ground. On this leaf are placed, the leftovers of sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice colored red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains.

  • Uttarayan date 2024  - 15 January Monday

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