Lohri celebrates fertility and the spark of life. People gather round the bonfires, throw sweets, puffed rice and popcorn into the flames as an offering to the Sun God, the giver of all life, sing popular songs and exchange greetings.
Sankranti is the time when the sun changes direction from one constellation (of the zodiac) to another. The transition of the Sun from Sagittarius (Dhanu Rashi, 9th sign of Zodiac) to Capricorn (Makar, 10th sign of Zodiac) during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana) is known as Makar sankranti.
From Makar Sankranti onwards when the sun is travelling northwards, innumerable auspicious things start happening. Climate and atmosphere improve. Children born during this period are naturally progressive, well mannered, pleasant and of noble disposition.
In Gujarat, Makar Sankranti is celebrated by the flying of kites Pongal in the South and Sankranti in the North are celebrated to mark the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons as well as the reaping of the harvest. Pongal festivities are spread over several days. The advent of Pongal is associated with spring-cleaning and burning of junk, symbolising the destruction of evil.
Decorative designs or rangolis are traced on floors and on the day of the Pongal, the newly harvested rice is cooked in homes to acclaim the bounty of the gods.
Light symbolises the warmth, i.e., the love and affection, the quality of the heart. In many areas of Bharat, this is symbolised by the distribution of til-gul – the til seed and jaggery. The til brimming with fragrant and delicious oil, stands for friendship and comradeship and jaggery for the sweetness of speech and behavior. The distribution of til-gul, therefore, forms a touching aspects of the Makara Sankramana celebration.
It is this supreme light and intelligence coupled with the warmth of the heart alone that can ultimately lead to all-round human harmony and happiness. Makara Sankramana gives the call for the awakening of all the latent powers in man not only for the flowering of his individual personality to its fullest unfoldment but also for the well-being and glory of society as a whole. Makara Sankramana embodies the ardent prayer of every Hindu heart –
Asato maa sadgamaya
Tamaso maa jyotirgamaya
Mrityormaa amritam gamaya
O Lord, lead me from the unreal to real; from the
darkness (of ignorance) to light (of knowledge); and
from death to immortality.
Call it Lohri, Pongal or Sankranti, the festival conveys the same message – the bond of brotherhood and the spirit of oneness should prevail above everything else.