Makar Sankranti is celebrated as a very important festival in India. Sankranti literally means “movement.” Everything that we recognize as life is movement. Fortunately, people who came before us have moved on, and people who come after us are waiting for us to move on – don’t have any doubts about this. The planet is moving and that is why it churns up life. If it were still, it wouldn’t be capable of life. So there is something called a movement in which every creature is involved, but if there has to be movement, this movement has to be housed – this movement can only happen in the lap of stillness. One who does not touch the stillness of his life, one who does not touch the stillness of his being, one who does not know or has not tasted the stillness within and without, will invariably get lost in the movement.
The Significance of Makar Sankranti
The significance of the Makar Sankranti festival is that it marks the day where there is a significant movement in the zodiac – the arrangement of the earth’s dial around the sun – and this movement brings about a new change in the way we experience the planet itself. There are many sankrantis through the year; the two significant ones being Makar Sankranti, and right opposite, after summer solstice is Karka Sankranti. In between, there are many Sankrantis – every time the zodiac sign changes, it is called a Sankranti to suggest the movement of the planet, to understand that our life is sustained and nourished by this movement. If this movement ceases, everything about us will cease. On the 22nd of December, the solstice happened, that means in relation to the sun, the movement or the tilt of the planet reaches its maximum. Now, from this day onwards, the northern movement is strong. Things really start changing upon the earth. From Makar Sankranti onwards, winter is being relieved step by step.
The harvest festival
The Makar Sankranti festival is also known and referred to as the harvest festival because this is the time when harvesting is complete and there are big celebrations. This is the day we acknowledge all those who assisted in making the harvest. The farm animals play a huge role in harvesting, so the following day is for them and is called Mattu Pongal. The first day is for the earth, the second is for us and the third is for the animals and livestock. See, they are placed a little higher than us because we exist because of them, they do not exist because of us. If we were not here, they would all be free and happy. But if they were not here, we couldn’t live.
So Makar Sankranti is a festival for harvest. But there are celestial and spiritual connotations to it as well. It arose from certain yogic practices that common people took up in ways that were relevant to them. This time is most important for yogis to make a new, fresh effort in their spiritual process. Accordingly, people who have family also make a fresh attempt at whatever they do in their lives.
Makar Sankranti – Festival of movement
So Makar Sankranti is a festival to recognize the movement, the movement being a celebration, the movement being life, the movement is the process of life and the beginning and the end of life. At the same time, the word ‘shankara’ is used to remind you that the one behind this, Shiva, is a still one; stillness is the basis of movement. Though all the other planets are moving, the most important one is not moving. If the sun also takes a walk, then we are in trouble. He hangs there not moving. That is why everybody else’s movement is okay. But his stillness is relative because the whole solar system may be moving; the whole galaxy may be moving. So beyond that, space which holds all this is absolute stillness.