Sankranti generally means the first day of the month. Thus, the first day of Nepalese month Magh is celebrated as Maghe Sankranti. The festival is also known as Makar Sankranti as well. Yet, the distinguished community of Nepal celebrates this day under different names and conduct different activities. The day also indicates that warm days are coming, saying goodbyes to the gloomy dark winter days. It is believed that from this day the sun starts to move toward Northern hemisphere. It is a solstice festival celebrated in Nepal.
What Sankranti actually means and why is Maghi celebrated?
“Sankranti” is the Sanskrit word in Eastern Astrology which refers to the movement of the Sun from one Rashi (a sign of the zodiac) to another. Here, a Rashi means a sign of the zodiac. In a very simple word, Sankranti means the very first day of the Nepali calendar that makes it obvious that there are 12 such Sankranti in a year.
Moreover, Maghe Sankranti is studied as the turn of the Sun from Dhanu Rashi (Sagittarius) to Makara Rashi (Capricorn). No wonder, why it is also called Makara Sankranti. However, Sadhguru considers Makar Sankranti as a festival based on a deep understanding of the universe and the geometry of a man.
In Hindu Astrology, the position of the sun during the year is divided into 12 Rashis (zodiac signs). It is, however, very difficult to arrange amongst Bikram Sambat months, Zodiac months, and lunar calendar’s months. While the traditional Calendar is based on lunar positions, Sankranti is also celebrated as a solar event.
Let’s talk about the religious and mythological beliefs of this day. In the Mahabharata, Bhishma Pitamah who was lying in the death bed because of the Arjun’s arrow, wished for death today. This day is so auspicious for salvation and spiritual gravity that is why Bhisma who had a boon to make a wish for his death choose this day for ending his life.
Today, there are crowds of pilgrims bathing in various ghats, rivers, and shrines, Devghat of Nawalparasi, Chatara of Sunsari, Kaligandaki bank, Setiveni of Parwat, Bagmati bank of Kathmandu Shankhamul, etc.
In Madhes, Maithil and Tharu communities celebrate this festival with great harmony. In the Tharu community, this day is celebrated almost as New Year in the form of Yale Dugan.
Today, it is believed that the Kirat dynasty invaded the Kathmandu Valley and achieved victory and the same victory celebration is considered to have started as Kirat Samvat.
In the Newar community, Maghe Sankranti is celebrated with the name ‘Ghuchaku Salhu’. They make laddu by mixing sesame seeds in Sakhhar and eat and donate it. Today, a historical Makar fair is held in Panauti near Kathmandu Valley, this fair started from the regime of King Mandab.
Maghe Sankranti is also a major festival of the Magar caste in Nepal. Maghe Sankranti has been recognized as the national festival of the Magars. In the Magar community, the archery game is played today. In this festival, the Magars duly worship the daughters and ancestors for three days.
“Poush ma pakya, Magh ma khyaka”
People take baths and do massage with mustard oil on the same day due to an aged belief. There is also a myth about cooking the sweet potatoes and cassava (Tarul) the day before maghe Sankranti. So, the old quote “poush ma pakya, Magh ma khyaka” could come alive.
The quote “poush ma pakya, Magh ma khyaka” means, cooked on poush and ate on magh.
This festival is a bit similar to Yomari Punhi in the sense of having a feast and giving importance to a particular dish.
There are others activities and days that people celebrate on Maghe Sankranti
This day by some means is also important for the followers of Buddhism. Most of the time, on this auspicious day, Shyakas and Bajracharyas people perform a ritual named samyak dan. It is a donating event, that usually takes place at na pukhu of Bhaktapur.
People in Nepal follow the lunar calendar. That’s why dates could be changeable to do Samyak dan.
The first day of Magh is celebrated in the Terai by the Tharu community as Maghi or the New Year. It is a week-long festival celebration that they celebrate by getting together as a family and friends, attending community gets together or mela, dressing up in the traditional Tharu wear, feasting, drinking, and making merry.
“On the occasion of Maghe Sankranti, every year Taruka village of Nuwakot organizes a Bullfight (Ox fight). It also believes that people dying this day will directly go to heaven without suffering and get a rebirth.”
The importance of Maghe Sankranti is basically a bond development among the family members and community. The joyous celebration in this particular day is highly venerated in Nepal. Some religious book also inscribes the importance of Maghe Sankranti as per the Hindu traditions. The greatest Mahabharata states that Bhisma Pitamaha, who has immense power and also got the blessings to have control over his own death, chose to die on this day. So, it is believed that those people who die on this day attain Moksha, liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
The Huge religious merits among the diverse ethnic communities celebrate the Maghe Sankranti in their own way. The delicacies differ from communities to communities. This also features the cultural attributes of Nepalese, encompassing the family bonds and joyous celebration.