Friday, January 14, 2022

Sankranti is Here

By M R Bhashyam

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It is freezing. But the Sun is about to transit into Capricorn. This is the beginning of the end of winter. Rivers and lakes are not full but water is not so scarce either.  The nature is ready to wade into the next phase. Farmers have just now harvested a bounty. Their creased faces have given way to smiles.  Sun is changing his course and moving from south to north, from dakṣināyaṇa to uttarāyaṇa.  Though the common understanding of uttarāyaṇa is movement of Sun towards north, it also means movement towards the exalted. The life breath of men and animals, Prāṇa, has a natural upward mobility. Nature is providing a transition period, a Sandhi, a granthi, for all to move upwards towards The Lord and his abode of serenity. The period is so auspicious that the great Bhīṣma was supposed to have waited for the Uttarāyaṇa, to give up his body on his onward journey to the heavenly abode.  The beginning of winter solstice, Sankrānti, draws one and all from the humdrum of the outer life towards the serenity of the inner self.  This is the period which weaves festivals as a garland for inner joy and external happiness. This also heralds the arrival of temple car-festivals, not one but many.


Just a few days before Sankrānti, there is the celebration of Vaikunṭha Eakadaśī, the day on which the Lord has opened the doors of His abode to all. People in India visit temples in huge numbers to have the darśan of the Lord.  Preceding this, the entire month of dhanurmāsa or mārgazhi māsam is devoted to the worship of the Lord, especially in the south where the great devotee saint Āndāl spent an entire month along with her friends in the worship of the Lord singing His glory as Tiruppavai.


The day of the transition of the Sun is celebrated in almost all parts of India with different names.   It is known as Makara Sankrānti in Karnataka, Telangaṇa and Maharashtra, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Magh Bihu in Assam, Magha Mela in parts of central and north India, as Makar Sankrānti in the west, Maghara Valakku in Kerala etc.


Śrī Śrīraṅga Mahāguru, used to say festivals are like the rings of a sugarcane full of spiritual juice. Sankrānti is a festival which is one of the more potent ones where the condition of the body, mind and breath can shift easily from the outer to the inner world.  Śrī Mahāguru, who was an adept, used to say that if one were to know the ancient science of Nāḍī Vijñāna, it is easy to know the truth behind this statement.  In addition to the worship of the Lord, oblations are also paid to pitṛs, the god- heads representing our forefathers.  While the worship of the Lord is through pooja, naivedya etc, the worship of the pitṛs is by performing tarpaṇa. Great benefits can be derived for the progeny if sesame is given as dāna to the eligible, especially to the realized souls.  It is customary to take a holy dip in sacred rivers to cleanse our mind and body and to elevate us internally.

In parts of India, especially the south, the day previous to Sankrānti is celebrated as Bhogi and as the name implies it is for enjoying the bounty that has just been harvested. The next day is Sankrānti and the third day is reserved for the worship of the cows. Cows, useful in many ways are a source of Sātvik vibrations and are abodes for many gods. They are washed, decorated, worshipped, fed sumptuously and are presented and paraded.  On this day, offerings are also made to other birds and beings- bhutās by ladies to satiate them.  Milk is also traditionally heated in crown-shaped vessels, and allowed to boil over, indicating the overflow and cascading of spiritual ambrosia when the Lord is attained.

 A common offering during the Sankrānti is a very tasty mixture of sesame, jaggery, copra prepared in different ways in different parts of India. While sesasme is supposed to be pithakāri as per Ayurveda, the others are added to restore the balance between Vāta, Pitha and Sleṣma.  This mixture along with pieces of sugarcane is distributed to the near and dear ones, friends and neighbours.  Sugarcane represents our spinal cord, the merudanḍa which is the highway for the transit of spiritual energy.  It is also a practice to seat all children in the evening, and pour on their head sesame and perform ārati.

To summarize, in the words of Śrī Śrīraṅga Mahāguru, festivals are boons granted by the Lord in Time and discovered by our sages to propel us through the pleasures of our senses towards the joy of our inner souls, and Sankrānti is one of the more potent of them.