Makar Sankranti: How a festival explains political (dis)unity
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Makar Sankranti: How a festival explains political (dis)unity

Like countless Indians, Makar Sankranti for us has mainly been about having ‘Dahi-Chiwra & Tilkut’ ceremonially in the morning and ‘Khichdi’ in the night. This year, however, was a tough call. The reason: part of the family advised that the festival was on January 15 while others stuck to January 14. TV channels seized their moment of grabbing eye-balls and added to the confusion.

Like most Hindus, the awareness was there that though this festival had little or no religious ritual accompanying it – save the dip in the Ganga by brave ones among whom none of us were ever counted – Makar Sankranti marked two things: the beginning of the harvesting season and the transition of the Sun into Makar Rashi or the zodiac sign of Capricorn.

After initial attempts, I stopped breaking my head while trying to comprehend ideas like the tilting of the Earth, different Houses of the zodiac and the significance of the presence of different celestial bodies in them.

From childhood, like most Hindus – all I knew was that Makar Sankranti heralded the onset of the end of winter and the beginning of the spring season when plants in the garden would display energy once again, flowers would start blooming and drives in the countryside would be through golden yellow mustard fields in full bloom.

So why the big fight this year – January 14 or 15? A call to Bharat Bhushan, friend to us but professional astrologer to the world, resolved the fight in favour of January 14. He explained that Makar Sankranti could be celebrated on either of the days because the Sun made its transition late in the evening on January 14. He gave the green signal to go ahead with the planned ceremonial meal with some close friends.

He also explained in great detail the cause behind the big fight – much of which I did not understand. I however, caught the gist: the Hindu calendar(s) is Lunisolar while the Gregorian calendar being solar in nature had a different cycle and that Makar Sankranti was moving one day behind from January 14 and would be celebrated for the next 72 years on January 15.

Despite our dilemma being resolved, large number of Hindus remained equally convinced about celebrating Makar Sankranti on January 15.

I have often been accused by family and friends of viewing everything within a political framework. At the risk of facing the charge once again, I would say that this is the beauty of Hindu practices as it exists today – to each one to his needs, to each one according to their belief.

Hinduism is not monotheistic. It gives the right to its practitioners to think of the religion as pluralistic. This is why it has been tough to get the entire community to rally on political lines. Attempts to do so succeeded at times in the past – most notably during the height of the Ayodhya agitation and later during extreme communal manifestation in Gujarat in 2002. The fact that one festival is celebrated with the same fervour by equally devout Hindus on two days is just one of the hurdles in this path.