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KITES, COWS & MAKAR SANKRANTI
Bringing In the Sun
Every winter at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis there is a kite flying festival for families. It's one of the most popular events of the season and brings so much joy and colorful skies to such a frozen landscape as the frigid Midwest. Warmer climes have festivals, too. Makar Sankranti is also celebrated with a great display of beautiful kites in India, the Caribbean countries, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and the southern United States (mostly Florida and Texas). January 14th is the date it is celebrated on each year in those countries. It is the beginning of spring in India.
On this day the sun (Surya) is worshiped by the Hindus in all these countries. The sun symbolizes light, wisdom, knowledge, turning away from the darkness of delusion and living in the light. The sun enters Capricorn (Makara) on this date. On the Hindu Calendar this is the month of Magha. Many Indians celebrate this as the Winter Solstice when the sun ends the southward journey and ventures northward. Makar Sankranti is also a harvest festival and honors the ancestors.
In the Puranas, Surya (Sun) visits his son, Shani (Saturn), for one month. So this day honors the relationship between all fathers and sons. Although Surya and Shani did not have the greatest relationship, Surya still visited his son every year at this time. This is an opportunity for all fathers to develop a better relationship with their sons.
On this day Lord Vishnu, the sustaining aspect of God, ended the terrorism of the asuras (demons). Maharaja Bhagiratha ended the curse on his ancestors by visiting the underworld on this day. Bhishma, the grand-sire in the Mahabharata, left the earth on this day. He had a boon of dying at will (Iccha-Mrityu). After lying on a bed of arrows, he choose Makar Sankranti for his last day on earth. Some people believe that if you die in this time period you become free from the cycle of rebirth.
The day before Makar Sankranti is Bhogi. On this day people are encouraged to get rid of old, unneeded items. It symbolizes eliminating bad habits, vices and attachments to material objects. In ecological terms it is a day to recycle all unneeded items. Although some people burn these items, from an ecological view point it is better to give them up to others and recycle them. Burning unwanted items adds to air pollution problems. Ecology is a good spiritual value to uphold at any time of the year. Getting rid of toxic chemicals would be another good practice at this time. Many cities and counties collect these toxic products. Contact your city or county to find out the disposal sites for these products.
The main festival day is called Pedda Panduga or the Big Festival. Food offerings are made to your ancestors, the sun is worshiped and prayers are prayed for the good of all. People wear new clothes and cows and animals are honored. The animals are fed by young girls on this day. Beautiful kites are flown on the rooftops of houses and buildings. The sun is worshiped by the flying of beautiful kites. It is about reaching to the heavens to connect with God who is the best and greatest power in the Universe. Mother Saraswati is also worshiped for She represents the greatness in knowledge, light, the arts and sciences.
The third day of the festival is Maattu Pongal. Cows are honored, like on the Big Festival Day. People decorate them in various ways with paint, flowers and bells. They roam freely and receive sweet rice and sugar cane. Their horns are decorated with gold, silver and other metallic coverings.
On the fourth day of the festival (Kannum Pongal), people visit their relatives and friends, besides being a day of thanksgiving for all who have attended the festival.
Some people attend, unfortunately, various types of animal fights during this time. Bull and cock fighting are staged in some places. I would not encourage this practice because these animals are abused in such contests. It is better to treat animals with respect. Donate to an animal shelter. Honor and worship cows and treat animals with dignity and respect instead of being involved with these cruel fights. You honor Mother Earth (Bhumi) when you treat Her creatures respectfully.
In the Himalayan regions of Darjeeling, the festival is called Magey Sakrati. Lord Shiva is worshiped in particular in this region. Shiva and Parvati are connected with Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. Parvati is connected with Mount Nanda Devi, her special mountain. Nanda Devi is translated as Goddess of Bliss. People take a bath before sunrise and then conduct a puja. Sweet potatoes and yams are eaten in this region during this festival.
In the Western Hemisphere Pandit Munelal Maharaj, my guru, will officiate Makar Sankranti in the Chaguanas Mandir car park in Chaguanas, Trinidad on January 19th from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. All are welcome to attend this great event.
Many communities all over the world are celebrating this great festival of the Sun, the harvest, cows, kites and family ancestors. Join the celebration.
JAI SHRI MAKAR SANKRANTI! JAI SHRI SURYA! JAI SHRI COWS! JAI SHRI KITES!