Makar Sankranti: In India and Nepal, kites fly to welcome spring

Very colorful reels of kite strings stacked

Wheels of colorful kite strings for sale in Ahmedabad, India. Photo by Meena Kadri, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 14: Kites fill the skies and the first scents of spring are in the air, as Hindus mark the astrological and seasonal festival of Makar Sankranti. Named for the entrance of the sun into the Tropic of Capricorn (Sanskrit: Makara), it is during this springtime festival that Hindus rejoice in the departure of the darkest, coldest time of year. At this time, the harvest season begins and the northeast monsoon ceases. Sacred rituals resume, a New Year is welcomed and thanks are given to the sun and the earth. Several deities are worshiped on Makar Sankranti—preferences vary by region—but all rejoice with plenty of sweet treats, dancing, family reunions and dips in sacred bodies of water. Across India, millions of kites are raised high into the skies (as is detailed by this article, from The Hindu) .

MAKAR SANKRANTI:
A FESTIVAL BY MANY NAMES

Man sitting beneath marketplace tent, surrounded by multicolored strings on spools

A kite seller in India, for Makar Sankranti. Photo by Rajesh Pamnani, courtesy of Flickr

Though celebrated throughout India and in Nepal, Makar Sankranti takes on several varied names and beloved customs. Observed for up to four days, Makar Sankranti is sometimes preceded by Lohri, an evening filled with enormous bonfires and ceremonial dancing. In Nepal, Hindus feast on laddoo, ghee and sweet potatoes during the Maghe Sankranti festival, at which time the mother of each household wishes good health to all family members.

In Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, India, Hindus light bonfires with old and unnecessary items, making room in their lives for change and transformation. Brothers visit married sisters during the day, and gifts of food, clothes and money are widely distributed. Prayers and new clothes mark the auspicious occasion, and during the course of the festival, animals are revered. Prepared food is always warming and energizing. (Wikipedia has details.)

Citizens of Maharashtra, India, exchange sweets as forgiveness of past ill deeds, while women in the region give and receive household gifts. Some Hindu children welcome migratory birds with food and song, and in various regions, a pot of rice boiling over is cause for a shout of “Ponggalo Ponggal!” with wishes for a blessed New Year.

Makar Sankranti is, universally, considered a period of enlightenment and prosperity. Melas, or fairs, are held across India.

PETA REQUESTS A MANJA-FREE HOLIDAY,
‘ANGRY BIRDS’ KITES BOOMING

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) representatives are spreading messages of a safe Makar Sankranti for birds across India, urging kite-flyers to use cotton strings instead of the glass-covered manja strings popular for cutting down others’ kites. (The Times of India and Zee News reported.) Demonstrations, campaigns and posters remind Hindus that almost thousands of birds are injured or killed every year during Makar Sankranti, and that manja strings pose dangers for people, too. Ironically, birds are also one of the most popular themes for kite design this year. News reports are citing “Angry Birds” characters as one of the most highly requested images for kites in 2015.

Interested in making a kite? Learn how, with tips from PBS.

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