The colourful kite-flying festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, which falls on January 14 each year, marks the end of a long winter and the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere. Hence the name Uttarayan.
According to Hindu astronomy, it is on this holiest day in the Hindu calendar, that the sun enters the zodiac of Makara or Capricorn, heralding the northern journey of the sun. The day is also of special significance, because on this day, the day and night are of equal hours.
Celebrated since time immemorial, among Hindus all over India, the day finds a mention even in the epic Mahabharata. We are told that the warrior hero Bhishma Pitamah, even on being fatally wounded and lying on a bed of arrows, lingered on till Uttarayan set in, to breathe his last.
It is believed that the person who dies on his auspicious day escapes the cycle of birth and rebirth and that the soul mingles with the almighty.
Makar Sankranti heralds the arrival of spring, the season of fruitfulness and plenty. And nothing signifies this better than the soft seeds of til or sesame. Across India, housewives prepare sweetmeats made from til - whether it is a basic mixture of til and jaggery, or laddus, or the famous til-poli of Maharashtra. In the southern part of India, the day is celebrated as Pongal, where a fullsome meal of lentils and rice liberally dashed with ghee is offered to gods, and then to family members.