During the month of “Maghe” near the end of the winter solstice, Nepal celebrates a holiday called “Maghe Sankranti”. Maghe Sankranti, which falls on the first day of the Nepali month of Magi as per the lunar calendar, marks the transition of Sun into the Hindu zodiac sign called Makara (Capricorn). From the day of Makar Sankranti, the sun begins its northward journey or Uttarayan journey. This transition of Hindu zodiac sign from Sun to Makara is highly revered all over Nepal.
An ancient festival that is observed according to the solar cycles, Makar Sankranti is one of the biggest celebrations in Nepal. Traditionally, Maghe Sankranti also commemorates the beginning of the harvest festival and the time when days start getting longer and warmer. It marks the termination of the winter season and the beginning of a new agricultural season. It is marked with great festivity, that corresponds to taking a dip in confluences of holy shrines and special delicacies consumed only this time of the year.
Makar Sankranti like other festivals also has its own historical and religious significance in Nepal and India. As per the tradition, Nepali Hindus visit various holy shrines and rivers convergence, most notably in Devghat, Chitwan to observe traditional pujas and Makra Snan (holy river bath) at the confluence of major rivers on this auspicious day, which is believed to absolve them of past sins.
Maghe Sankranti has festive significance for most Hindus, specifically the Newars of central Nepal, and the Tharus of western Nepal and the Kirat community of the eastern Himalayan region. For the ethnic groups of Magars and Tharu community, however, this day is equivalent to their New Year – celebrated with grand community gathering and fanfare.
The Kirats celebrate Maghe Sankranti as Yele Dhung, which marks their New Year and also the historical event when The Kirati King Yalambar invaded Kathmandu Valley, thereby starting the reign of the Kirat dynasty. The Tharus, too, celebrate the day to mark their New Year, or Maghi. Tharus organize a feast and celebrate the festival with a huge significance. The celebration is accompanied by the traditional dances and folklores is an interesting part of the Tharu community.
Besides the rituals, Maghe Sankranti is also about eating nutritious food. Various ethnic groups of the country celebrate the festival by consuming an assortment of seasonal foods. Typically, most households, especially Newars in and around the valley, prepare a range of body-warming foods to overcome the bitter and cold days of the winter. Sesame sweets are a sumptuous Sankranti staple. These bite-sized ladoos made with warming sesame seeds and hardened black molasses (Chakku) are an important part of Sankranti celebrations. They are considered a great source of energy and the Sankranti’s special treat. Other accompaniments include boiled sweet potatoes or sakarkhanda and yam, locally known as tarul, smeared in ghee.
Maghe Sankranti is celebrated by wishing a healthy and prosperous life with some enchantments and religious recitations. This festival is the major transition of holy phase, so, it is one of the major religious festivals of Hindus and holds eternal meaning in itself.
- Swikriti Khadka