Makar Sankranti Festival Celebrations at Sabarimala
Makar Sankranti festival or Makara Sankranthi is celebrated across India as the sun moves to the solar constellation of Capricorn. In the Sabarimala temple located in South India, Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku are celebrated on the same day.
Makara is actually the name of a month based on the Hindu calendar. Makara Sankranthi is the day when the sun transits completely to the solar constellation of Capricorn, which happens mostly on January 14th every year, or sometimes on adjacent dates. This time is considered highly auspicious by the Hindus and hence many rituals including poojas and celebrations are performed in all the temples during this day. It is actually considered as the beginning of an auspicious time.
The rituals and celebrations vary from place to place and will be different in different temples.
Sabarimala is one of the most famous temples of God Ayyappa located in southern Kerala. The temple has got so many legends and stories behind the origin of it, and the journey to temple is considered as a pilgrimage by most of the devotees in South India. Sabarimala temple is not open on all days throughout the year, but it is usually open on special days like the beginning of every month and also during the pilgrimage season which starts by December. The temple closes again after the important celebrations and rituals on Makara Sankranti.
The below image is from Wikimedia Commons which shows the close up shot of the bright Sirius star, the significance of which you will understand as you read the article.
As I mentioned earlier, Makara is the name of a very auspicious month and it also denotes the Zodiac sign of Capricorn. The word Sankranthi denotes the movement or transit of the sun from one constellation to another. So Makara Sankranthi is the day when sun moves to the constellation of Capricorn and this day has an astrological importance. Apart from this, in India, the beginning of this month also brings an end to the winter season, and the days are going to be longer with less lengthy nights.
Makara Sankranthi is also a harvest festival in India.
Makara Sankranthi celebrations have much importance in Sabarimala temple. Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku are something devotees always wait to see. The temple is located on top of the mountain ranges in Western Ghats and the pilgrims have to walk all the way along the mountains to reach the temple. In ancient days, people used to walk through the forest for days and then went through the mountains to reach the temple. Today, vehicles can go up to a nearby place, but many people still prefer the difficult path to reach the temple. Anyhow, everyone going to the temple has to go through the mountains in foot to reach the temple.
Let us see more about the Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku in Sabarimala.
Actually both the words Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku can be translated as Makara lights, which means the lights seen during the month of Makara, on Makara Sankranthi day. Even though the meaning is literally the same, they are different lights.
On Makara Sankranthi day every year, early in the morning, there is a light that appears in the sky on top of the mountains of Western Ghats, which you can see from the temple. This is Makara Jyothi. As per the belief, no one is lighting it, but it just happens. So this is seen as a blessing from the God by the devotees.
In fact, the very bright star Sirius passes through the sky at the same time in the morning, just before seeing the light or jyothi in the sky. Many times there had been controversies regarding how the light appears. Many questions were asked like if someone is lighting it, but no one could find such a thing. Sometimes I had a thought like if the light could be an astronomical mirage from the Sirius star, but still, I too believe it as the blessing. It is a light of hope and surprise, that the devotees wait to see every year.
Makaravilakku is yet another holy lamp lighted by the tribes who live in the forest near to the temple. There is a different temple there, and when the Sirius star passes through the morning sky and the celestial lighting appears in the sky, the tribes perform special pooja and lights the holy lamp which is Makaravilakku, and it appears three times.
So both Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku are holy lights. The jyothi appears in the sky on top of the mountains and the other lamp is lighted in the near by temple by the tribes, at the same time on the morning of Makara Sankranthi day.
Sometimes, the Sirius star that passes through the sky is also referred as Makara Jyothi, even though it mostly refers to the light that appears in the sky after the appearance of the star.
Also, the word Makaravilakku is sometimes used to mention the festival of the tribes on Makara Sankranthi day, even though it is mostly used to refer the light ignited as part of the rituals.
Other than Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku, there are special poojas and rituals on Makara Sankranthi Day in Sabarimala.
Most of the temples are usually very crowded on Makara Sankranthi day. People mostly performs special poojas or rituals in their own homes. If you are at your home, you can too celebrate with lights, special food, rangoli and more, to welcome a prosperous, beautiful and auspicious time ahead!
Below you can see Makara Sankranthi songs from Amazon that you might enjoy.
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- Customs And Traditions Associated With Sabarimala Pilgrimage
Here you can read about the popular customs and traditions followed by the devotees who visit Sabarimala temple, especially during the pilgrimage season in December.
- Sabarimala: Legends Associated With The Origin Of The Temple
Sabarimala is one of the most famous Hindu pilgrimage destinations in South India, visited by large number of devotees every year irrespective of the religion.