Today is an auspicious day, day that marks the sun’s entry in to the ‘Makar (Capricorn) Rashi’. The word Sankranti means “change of direction” and the sun change its direction north words on the day of maker Sankranti. It’s the time to start a dip in the holy waters of mother Ganges at sun rise and at sunset and say goodbye to winter foods.
The eve of the day is celebrated as Lohri making it as the last day of winter and Maker Sankranti as the first day of the summer. Makar Sankranti is celebrated in different states of nation with different names. In Tamil Nadu it is called Pongal. In Assam it is celebrated as Magh Bihu and Bhogal Bihu. In states of Punjab and Haryana it is celebrated as Lohri festival. In Uttar Pradesh it is celebrated as Khichdi or Donation festival. In Bihar it is known as Til Sankranti or Khichdi festival.
The period begins from 14 January (Makar Sankranti) and lasts till 14 July, is known as Uttarayana (“Uttar” North and “Ayan” movement towards). The earth, farthest from the sun at this point of time, starts its journey towards the sun, thus ending the coldest month of the year (peak winter), Paush, and announcing the beginning of the month of Magh. Dakshinayana (remaining six months period of the year) is the night of the deities where as Uttarayana is their day. It is the day when the Sun begins its movement away from the tropic of Capricorn and towards the northern hemisphere and thus it signifies an event wherein the Sun-God seems to remind their children that 'Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya'—may you go higher and higher, to more and more Light and never to Darkness.
As Bhisham Pitamah in Mahabharata waited for this period to relieve from his body, the Bhagavad Gita undeniably records it as an extremely sacred and auspicious time when in Bhagavad Gita, the Lord says, “I am Uttarayana among the Ayanas.” And in chapter-8, shloka-24 Lord Krishna says; “Those who know the Supreme Brahman attain that Supreme by passing away from the world during the influence of the fiery god, in the light, at an auspicious moment of the day, during the fortnight of the waxing moon, or during the six months when the sun travels in the north.”
According to the Hindu Mythological Puranas, on this day Surya (Sun) visits the house of his son Shani (Saturn), who is the lord of the Makara rashi (Capricorn zodiac). Though the father and son duo did not get along well, the Surya made it a point to meet his son on this day. He, in fact, comes to his son's house, for a month. Thus this day symbolises with the importance of the special relationship between father and son.
On the day of Makar Sankranti we all fly kites for enjoyment (is it only for it?). We also get Vitamin D, for strengthing our bones and now we also know that adequate levels of vit D is also repsonsible for many other health benfits like prevention of heart diseases, kideney diseases and others by sunbathing. The rays of sun, when falls in our eyes heals several ophthalmological ailments.
Significance of Til (Sesame) Ke Laddoo On Makar Sankranti: Consumption of Til’s (Seasame) preparation like Laddu, Gajak or Tilpatti in the season starting from Makar Sankranti is considered medicinal. We know now that Sesame seeds (Til) are rich source of iron & Jaggery (GUD) a high-energy food that is also rich in dietary iron. In fact, Til is also one of the richest sources of iron amongst vegetarian foods.
The preparation of sweets made with Til and Jaggery has beneficial significance as they are considered warm food items in Ayurveda and so when combined with Jaggery makes a extremely healthy combination delivering many health benefits along with keeping people warm from within. Scientific studies reveal that during winters our BMR or basal metabolic rate is reduced.
BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is a measure of body's basic metabolic functions. It is also the simplest measure of estimating the minimum amount of energy required to sustain our life, when no physical activity is performed. If BMR gets reduced the amount of energy that we are unable to consume from our diet gets converted and deposited into body's fat than utilized, an important cause of obesity and Type-2 diabetes and cardio metabolic risks associated with it. However, when body sees a emergency situation (during fasting, starvation period and during the cold months decrease in BMR is beneficial for survival as happens in cold blooded invertebrate animals and even in warm blooded animals living in extreme weather conditions of the Artic and Antarctic during hibernation. This regulation is mediated through our brain centres that send signals the body physiology to store more body-fat for future use to fulfil energy requirement.
Another scientific fact is during the low BMR days, our pulse rate & pumping of heart blood volume (cardiac output) becomes lesser compared to high activity period and warm seasons. When the rate of blood circulation gets reduced, the rate of oxygen supply to various parts of body too gets affected. To overcome this situation body needs to produce more of RBC's (the red blood cells; oxygen carrying blood cells), a fact known as physiological polycythaemia of higher altitude and old regions. To produce more RBC's Haem moiety of haemoglobin (iron compound in Haemoglobin) body needs for more energy & Iron. This very simply explains the need to consume iron & energy rich foods during this period.
We may or may not take it but all this underscore that religion is nothing but a very scientific way of life and not rituals I’m sure that some of my thoughts will make you feel that our ancestors were genius indeed scientifically oriented and ritual perpetuators (as some of us are). They used scientific foods in their day-to-day life? They utilised their knowledge well. Unfortunately, over many centuries things become distorted and practiced as rituals and customs of particular religion and as humanity at large living in that particular or similar geographical location.
Its time we try to understand the scientific basis of every custom and ritual and help in taking the shroud of myths and religion specific biases away, to reveal an ideal way of life underlying it.
Happy Makar Sankranti – Lohri – Pongal – Bihu – Magh