In India, Makar Sankranti is celebrated to mark the transition of the Sun into the sun sign Capricorn or Makara. It is considered to be the day that the Sun God transitions from Dakshinayan to Uttarayan as well. In the Dakshinayan the sun shines in the southern hemisphere and it is believed that Surya Dev is in deep sleep at this time, whereas in Uttarayan, Surya dev awakes from his sleep and hence it is considered a period of great auspiciousness. This also marks the shift of longer days than nights.
Uttarayan and Dakshinayan both last for six months each, in Uttarayan is when all major yatras and pilgrimages begin. According to the Mahabharata, even Bhishma waited for Surya Dev to transition into Uttarayan to surrender himself to death.
People pay their respects to Surya Dev for showering the earth with warmth and because life on this earth could not be possible without the Sun.
This year, the Kumbh Mela also begins on Makar Sankranti which is on the 14th of January. On this day, people often dip in the holy waters of the Ganga, The Yamuna, The Kaveri etc in hopes to rid themselves of their sins.
There are five special measures that are followed on Sankranti-
1. Chant the mantra ‘Om Ghrani Surya Namah’ to rid yourself of any troubles
2. Surya Namaskar- do surya puja by offering holy water and cow’s milk to Surya Dev and practicing the Surya Namaskara yoga.
3. Donate- donate to the poor and needy
4. Mix jaggery with raw rice with eater and offer this into some water body.
5. Pray to Surya Dev- wake up early, after taking a shower, face towards the east and worship Surya Dev and chant ‘Om Bhaskaraya Namah’
Kites are also flown on this day, this started as a tradition to expose people to the sun rays in the morning which is believed to reduce the risk of infections and skin diseases or even get rid of skin infections and various other illnesses.