Makara Sankranti. Pongal.

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Makara Sankranti celebrates happiness.

It is the most important festival in the sanatana dharma calendar.

If I follow the sanatana dharma teachings, bear a loving disposition to people and life, and spread selfless love all around, then every day is a festival for me. But I do not do that. I’m selfish and do not spread my love readily beyond my immediate family. Therefore, every day has become ordinary to me. To remind me of what I’m missing and to wake me up to change every day and every moment into a festival is the reason for  festivals.

Kranti means change. Sankranti means sacred, supreme, highly beneficial change.

My feelings make all the difference in my life. If I feel miserable, I lead a miserable life. If I feel happy, I lead a happy life. The world gives me neither misery nor happiness. It is I who do that. To be happy, I must look to me. Not to the world. This is the first change, the sankranti, that I must do.

The world around me is constantly changing and is temporary. Since the world is a temporary thing, the happiness from it is also temporary. On the other hand, the indweller within me is eternal and permanent. I experience it in several ways. I see it as my conscience for example. My conscience is not a temporary thing. It is a permanent presence that I can relate to. Scriptures say this indweller is bliss itself.  Since it is permanent and bliss, I can find permanent happiness only in its company.  So, the second change, the sankranti, I must make is to seek and keep the company of the divinity within me.

Sankranti signifies a change from misery to happiness, from restlessness to peace and from pain to pleasure. Sankranti bestows joy on everyone equally. That is why everyone eagerly awaits the arrival of Sankranti with enthusiasm. Even birds and animals are happy with the arrival of Sankranti. When the farmer brings home the harvested grain, birds partake of them and express their joy by chirping merrily. The neighbours congratulate the farmer for the rich harvest he reaped as a result of his hard labour”

During the holy period of Makara Sankranti , the sun is cool, the days are short, the nights long. Harvesting of grains is just over. The farmers’ houses are filled with newly harvested grains. There is merry, comfort and ease in the air. People in villages enjoy themselves and participate in several kinds of games such as Jallikattu 1,2. Video.

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Makara sankranti is celebrated all over India. And also all around the world under different names. Even though names may be different, the joy and happiness that are celebrated is a common theme among these festivals. The drive to celebrate happiness springs from the bliss present within each one of us.  

In my home state of Tamil Nadu, the festivities last three days. On the first day, called maattu pongal, animals are worshipped.

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Farmers express their gratitude to them. For, without their their help and support, farming and growing food grains would not be possible. Also, an enchanting play takes place on this day with a bull and a cow as the main actors . I remember a scene vividly from my childhood days in Chennai. On this day, our milkman, who used to bring fresh milk every morning to our home, would come with a friend along with a bull and cow. These animals would be colorfully and artistically decorated. The bull would be named Rama and the cow Sita. The milkman and his friend  would perform their marriage symbolically, praying  for the peace and welfare of the world. What remains an unforgettable moment to this day  is the play acting of the cow. The cowherd would ask the cow, “Amma, Is Rama handsome?”. The cow would shake its head in disapproval.  Then the bull-herd would plead with the cow saying, “Amma, Rama is blackish blue in colour. But he is very good, mighty and prosperous. He is a great king.” Then the cow will nod its head in approval to indicate, “Yes, I like Rama.” I had watched this play with friends in tow several times and would return enthralled every time. Precious moments in life. [See brief video for a similar celebration in Andhra Pradesh]

The second day of the festival is “Pongal”.

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Pongal, meaning “boiling over in plenty”, used to be celebrated under the stewardship of the eldest member of my family, my grandmother. Rice would be boiled in a pot heated over charcoal fire. Pressure cooker had not been invented yet. Microwave oven was an unheard thing of the distant future. The term”slow-cooked” was not in vogue because that was the only way cooking was done. As the rice began to boil, it would be deliberately allowed to boil over. Not in silence, mind you. The boiling over would be accompanied by a cacophony of noises. Pots and pans would be enthusiastically beaten with ladles, sticks, big spoons and whatever else was available. All the children in the family would gather around happily supplying, in full accompaniment, full throated shrills of “pongalo pongal”[“hail to the spilling over in prosperity”]. This moment of rice boiling over to the cries of “pongalo pongal” has to be experienced at least once in one’s life to taste its everlasting joy. To top this, we would chew on endless supply of sugarcane on this day !

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The third day of the festival is “Kaanum Pongal”.

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Sons in the family feed varieties of rice dishes to birds on this day, praying for the welfare of their sisters. I remember doing this with sincerity as my mother gave me different rice dishes. I had to make them into small balls and arrange the rice balls neatly in rows on a banana leaf on the terrace of our house. The rice dishes were of different colors. I used to wonder if the colors were there to attract the birds, but was not sure if birds could indeed see colors. Anyway, I used to check back after some time to see if the birds had eaten the offerings and when I found they indeed had, I would return with satisfaction. Kaanum Pongal celebrates family unity and is celebrated with a prayer for unity among siblings.

On the day of Makara Sankranti, another thing happens. Uttarayanam begins on this day.  Uttarayanam is the six month time period between January 14 and July 14. Uttara means to rise up. Ayanam means “the place of final refuge” or God. So uttarayanam also means I must rise up to my divine self from my human self and from my animal self. This change of leaving behind animal qualities and cultivating human values to culminate in divinity itself is the most beneficial change, sankranti. This is the teaching and the reminder from the sankranti festival. It is called Makara Sankranti because the sun enters the Makara Rasi (capricorn) on this day. According to Nirayana system of calculations, this falls on January 14. But according to Sayana system of calculations, this could be December 22 or 23. Interestingly, about 2000 years ago, Makara Sankranti and uttarayanam coincided on December 25, the day of joy we celebrate as Christmas today.

Neither time nor time-calculations can capture the uncapturable divinity. Regardless of the actual time of uttarayanam, the call of Makara Sankranti is to make the most beneficial change in my life. This call is timeless. I must heed it.

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On this day, as the sun starts its northward travel, my discriminating power, buddhi, gets strengthened. I must use it to discriminate between temporary and permanent happiness. Then I must strike the right deal.

Here is a sankranti teaching to travel to permanent happiness. I like this teaching. Hope you do too.

“Cutivate love that will help you to experience bliss.

Start the day with Love

Fill the day with Love

End the day with Love

This is the way to God.

If you can achieve this, you will not be disturbed by sorrows and difficulties. The heart is the seat of bliss. True bliss flows from a pure and loving heart. Try to experience such bliss. All other forms of happiness are momentary.”

Makara Sankranti falls on January 15 this year.

Happy Makara Sankranti, dear reader!

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