May every sunrise bring you hope,/May every sunset bring you peace.
The importance of the sun in one's life can never be emphasized enough. Most of us look forward to a sunny day during the dreary winter season. The sun is considered a life giver, a source of energy, and even our food chain begins with sunlight. It is for this very reason the sun is venerated, worshiped and celebrated in many ancient cultures, including in India today.
The Winter Solstice has been a significant time of the year for ages.
This past weekend marked the end of the four-day celebration of Makara Sankranthi in India and its diaspora. It is one of those rare festivals based on a solar event instead of the lunar calendar.
It is traditionally believed that on Sankranthi, Jan. 14/15 of every year, the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makara). Since pre-Vedic times, it is celebrated to mark the beginning of Uttarayana – the northward journey of the sun (Winter Solstice). This is refuted by a few astronomical scholars since the dates of both occurrences are off by a month.
They no longer hold true as they don't coincide anymore, as they did a few thousand years ago.
Despite that, the tradition continues.
Makara Sankranthi is predominantly a harvest festival. It is celebrated everywhere with some regional variations, customs and rituals. The festival is referred to with different names regionally – as Lohri, Sankranthi, Pongal, Uttarayan, Bihu, Magha, etc.
In the southern states of India, Bhogi is the first day of the festivities. At dawn, people light a bonfire with logs of wood, biofuel and discarded objects from their homes. On the same night in the northern state of Punjab, the bonfire of Lohri marks the end of winter, coming of spring and the start of the financial new year for the farmers.
The next two days of Sankranthi are all about thanksgiving. The farmers celebrate by offering gratitude to nature, the sun and the farm animals for a bountiful harvest. The rest of the population celebrates the festival to give their thanks to the farmers.
Across India, the most popular dish that is commonly cooked is sweet rice pudding, with jaggery and milk. In my native city of Hyderabad and other places, the skies are littered with colorful kites and the terraces are filled with competing groups of people.
Sankranthi is a cultural celebration and is one of perfect harmony.
The spiritual significance of the bonfires cannot be ignored. It is the purging of everything that is bad, negative and unhealthy. It is the harbinger of everything that is new, good, and positive with health and happiness for all.
The highlight of this week in our country is the inauguration of the next president. Joe Biden will be sworn in today as the 46th president, along with Vice President Kamala Harris. I, along with the majority of the Americans, look forward to the dawn of this new day with ardent positivity and high hopes of renewal of peace and harmony. A total break from the chaos, negativity and disruption of the past two months.
We as a nation need to pick up the pieces, heal, and build back trust and relationships with a passion and vigor that demands 100% from each of us. The year 2020 was one of hindsight. I choose not to dig into the current sad state of affairs and finger-pointing. As a nation, we are all inherently caring and good at heart. We need to bring forth the world-famous American resilience and kindness.
Just like the bonfires of Bhogi and Lohri, we should learn to purge all the ills that inflict us. We should rise up to this challenge like the sun. I hope and pray with utmost gratitude, I look forward to the next spring of our lives, just like Sankranthi.
May all become happy/May none fall ill/May all see auspiciousness everywhere/May none ever feel sorrow
Peace Peace Peace