SATURDAY, JANUARY 14: Right on the heels of St. Hilary’s Day, which is popularly known as the coldest day of the year, comes India’s spring harvest festival Makar Sankranti. As the sun moves from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, an elaborate festival takes place all over India and, particularly, among Hindus. Different regions of India mark Makar Sankranti in various ways, ranging from massive kite-flying events to community bonfires to visits with family and friends. (Wikipedia has details.) Unlike most Hindu festivals, Makar Sankranti falls on a fixed date each year: January 14.
Beginning in mid-December, Hindus believe an inauspicious phase takes place—but that phase ends today, and many Hindus resume rituals and activities that may have been put off during this time, such as weddings. (I Love India has Makar Sankranti recipes, greetings and more.) Today ends the winter season in India and begins the spring season, and Hindus nationwide give thanks to the Sun God. Millions begin Makar Sankranti with a bath in the Ganges River or in the home.
Perhaps the most widely recognized symbol of Makar Sankranti is the kite, as kites are flown in several regions throughout India as a symbolic outreach to Surya, the Sun god. Kite designs can be traditional, but most visualize popular culture and figures; movie stars, political leaders and activists are most common. This year, kite makers agree that the most popular face in the sky on Makar Sankranti will be Social Activist Anna Hazare’s. (Check out kite photos courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.)
Still, warnings go out concerning Makar Sankranti kite flying, too: animal welfare activists have launched campaigns throughout India to raise awareness of the hundreds of birds killed each year with manja, glass-coated kite strings. (The Times of India has an article.) Volunteers will offer public lessons on flying kites with regular strings, while other volunteers will offer help in caring for any injured birds.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.