Thursday, January 12, 2012
Uttarayan, Makar-Sankranti, Lohri, Pongal and Bihu
Makar-Sankranti and Uttarayan are celebrated on 14th January. Most of us know what they signify. Maker-Sankranti is ‘crossing into Makar (Capricorn)’ and Uttarayan is ‘movement towards north’. It is all about the movement of our energy source, nay, the life source, the sun. Imagine a life without it! Indeed, we all know that Sun actually does not move, but only appears to do so in relation to earth. It is the earth that moves.
We relate these festivals to kite-flying and eating sesame-candies. We also know, how that great Bhishma of Mahabharat fame waited till arrival of this day before giving up his life and embracing death. This festival is recognized essentially as a tribute to sun and its victory over darkness when it is well on its course marching from the tropic of Capricorn to reach the tropic of Cancer, that is to say, from southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere. Nights visibly shrink and the winter perceptibly declines as it progresses on its mission.
When we think of Makar-Sankranti and Uttarayan, a host of things flood our consciousness. The sun, the stars, the nakshatras, the winter, the summer, the wind, the earth, the connected stories and histories, and of course, kites and sesame-candies too. These notions are systematically built around these festivals by ancient Indian thinkers, the rishis, with a view to inculcate effort-free understanding of the Mother Nature and making her come alive to us. Today’s world knows it better than anyone else, how much valuable the nature is by way of having become victim of its wanton exploitation. Citizens of the world have realized importance of preserving nature but they have lost the vision of ancients and hence no effective way is now at hand with them to tackle self-inflicted climate-change, global-warming and deadly-pollution. But this was not the case two millennia ago, when each and every civilization, without any exception, celebrated nature. Especially, the sun-worship was the most universal of all worships before being trashed by new Semitic faiths in their drive for new faithful recruits who must close their eyes and ears to their ancestral gods. The ruins at Scotland’s Stonehenge and Ireland’s Newgrange are ancient testimony to sun-worship.
Sun is life and its absence, death. Therefore, no wonder, sun is revered by everyone. Sun-God was known by various names by different civilizations of the yore. In Egypt it was “Ra”, in the large area between India through Iran and Europe it was “Mitra’, in Japan it was ‘Amaterasu’, in North-Europe it was “Beiwe” or “Lugh”, in the Roman empire it was ‘Sol’, in Greece it was ‘Helios’ or ‘Apollo’ and in America, for Incas it was “Inti” and for Mayans, “Kinich Ahau”. In India and places with Indian cultural influence, the people of Nepal, Tibet, China, Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand etc, still, the sun is worshipped by several names. The modern man has ridiculed nature worshippers and destroyed them wherever they could exercise their brute force. By acting deaf and dumb towards the Mother Nature they have indiscriminately robbed her resources. Now, when disastrous results are beginning to show up, they have begun wise talk of ‘ecological-balance’! Even in the face of grim environmental situation, their resolves are hollow and efforts dishonest when it comes to working towards ecological balance and fair distribution of natural resource. Between the nature-exploiters and the nature-worshippers, it is anyone’s guess, which are wise.
In the sense of northern movement of sun, the Uttarayan begins from the day of winter-solstice and continues till sun maintains its northward travel. In India we celebrate it on 14-15 January. Others, in the rest of the world, celebrated it even on December 13th, 17th, 24th, 25th and 26th. . This variation stems from the wobble of earth’s axis. Earth rotates around its axis at an inclination of 23.5°, and just as does the shaft of an inclined top, the earth’s axis also circumscribes a circular orbit. This orbit is known as ‘precessional’ orbit and takes 26,000 years for one circle. Due to continuously shifting position of earth’s axis over 26,000 years, the solstice keeps sliding every year by a few moments. In the year 2011, this day came on 22nd December and on that day the daylight period was 10 hour-50 minute-10 seconds. Similarly, in the year 2012, this day would be on 21st December. (day-light hours differ from place to place. Above calculation is meant for the world’s fastest growing city of Surat situated in south Gujarat). Another reason for the variation in the dates of Uttarayan celebration stems from imperceptibility of the change in sunrise and sunset timings when sun is close to the solstice. Let us take current example to understand the issue of imperceptibility. Although the daylight period keeps growing from 22nd December, its growth until 14th January (in 23 days), is merely 7 minutes-19 seconds, negligible when compared to 19 minutes-9 seconds growth in the next 23 day period after 14th January.
The north European people of Norway, Sweden and Finland celebrated Uttarayan as “Beiwe-festival” or “Lucia-Festival” and the Vikings and Germanic population celebrated it as “Yule-festival”. Ancient Romans celebrated Uttarayan as “Brumalia” and the Slavs, Ukrainians, and Russians of east Europe celebrated it as “Karachun”, “Koleda” or “Khorovod”. The ancient peoples of North America celebrated Uttarayan as “Soyalangwul” and the Central and South America’s ancient Incas celebrated it as “Inti Raymi”. In the Western Asia, before the rise of Christianity and Islam, they celebrated Uttarayan as “Zagmuk” or “Yalda”. The areas such as Tibet, China, Japan, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos etc. where Semitic religions (Christianity and Islam) have not widely spread, the Uttarayan is celebrated variously as “Dong zhi”, “Yazu”, “Makar-Sankranti”, “Maghi”, “Thingyan”, “Songkran”, “Maha-songkran”, “Pi Ma Lao” etc. In Pakistan’s Chitral province, unevangelized ‘Kalash’ people of the mountains celebrate ‘Chamos’. Indeed, Uttarayan festivity is currently on wane in China and Tibetan territory under its control since God and religion are ‘undesirable’ elements in communism.
India celebrates Uttarayan and Maker-Sankranti as Lohri, Pongal and Bihu. On this day, young and old spend time under the sun, flying kites, eating and exchanging sesame-candies, giving gifts beginning new ventures and bidding good-bye to winter. They give as ‘prasaad’ or gift, those things that are produced by nature during those days; the wheat, rice, sesame, sugarcane and berries.
Makar-Sankranti is the day when sun enters the ‘nakshatra’ of Capricorn and it is the time when sun is already well on its way northwards, the ‘Uttarayan’. These two phenomena are computed using different methods. Calculated by the tropical-astronomy the Uttarayan is determined as having begun from winter-solstice and the Makar-Sankranti by sidereal-astronomy as commencing from 14th January. These two phenomena are joined into one single-day festival by ancient Indian rishis as the effect of Uttarayan can be easily experienced since Makar-Sankranti.
Just as Uttarayan portends reclaiming dominance on the northern hemisphere by sun, it is the Dakshinayan that does the same in the southern hemisphere. Therefore Dakshinayan is celebrated as “Maruaroa o Takurua” by the ancient Maoris of New Zealand and as “Vi-tripantu” by ancient inhabitants of Chile.
Thanks to the consumerism of the present day, the industries and commerce are as if thrown in a frenzy to strip the Mother nature like there is no tomorrow. Minerals, vegetation, animals, fish and birds are annihilated to meet the greed. Water, air and land are being polluted at an alarming rate. People have increased their requirements without ever thinking about needs of other living beings on the planet. How long could the earth sustain us has become a matter of great worry. Today world population stands at staggering 7 billion and would soon double. If the people of the world are to follow the life-style of America, scientific calculations show that, as of today, we would need resources equivalent to seven earths. Is it a sustainable lifestyle? Their ‘ecological footprint’ is that huge. In comparison, India’s ‘ecological footprint’ is tiny. If every resident of the whole world was to live the way we live in India, only half the resource of the world would suffice and we would not have to be worried about saving the planet from impending disaster. Albeit a lot of awareness has come about among the citizens of the world with regards to the nature as well as the consequences of ignoring nature, yet, hardly anywhere in the world, people are known to celebrate full-fledged festivals honoring and appreciating nature and paying tributes to it in as consistent a manner as being done for thousands of years in India.
However, be sure, such articles or speeches do not, cannot and would not save the earth. For ensuring effective saving of the earth, an internal transformation of human is necessary. This mindset can come only from gradual and perpetual working on people from their early childhood, a Sanskrit word ‘sanskaar’ well explains that process of working on mind. That we are not the owner of the earth but only her humble servant, should be given to everyone from childhood and that knowledge should be skillfully supplemented all through life of an individual by stories, festivals, practices, icons and rituals. This is what used to happen when the whole earth at one time celebrated festivals dedicated to the Mother Nature. Our ancient forefathers and sages knew it very well and therefore gave us those festivals, Puranic stories, episodes from history and many of those things which help reinforce respectful love towards nature in our day-to-day life. Festivals such as Uttarayan, Makar-Sankranti, Vasant-Panchmi, Sharad-Purnima, Thaipongal, Thaipusam, Chhath etc are celebrated in tribute to Nature. This is a patent peculiarity of ancient Indian culture ensuring that the nature gets unconsciously and unobtrusively woven into our life fabric. However busy we may be in our life, however hard may we be engaged in the struggle for survival and even if we have neither inclination nor need to gaze at earth, sun, moon, stars and seasons, their presence around us remains in our consciousness by auto suggestions and by festivals, icons, rituals etc.
If it is our mindset that earth is created for our consumption and God has appointed us as its master to control it, then we could and certainly would exploit it. That is what has been done by most of the people. Due to them, the earth stands devastated today. The message of Indian Sanskruti is quite the opposite. It says that earth is our mother and to serve it is our duty as her children. We can take what is needed (not what is wanted) but we should also know that she has other children too to look after hence it should not so happen that our other brethrens are deprived. We cannot rob mother and our siblings.
‘Uttarayan’ and ‘Makar-Sankranti’ festivals are a good time to reflect how not to let Indian culture meet the same fate as rest of the cultures, let us still worship and celebrate nature. Those who revere the nature, would think twice before inflicting injury to the revered. We are proud being tree-worshipper, monkey-worshipper, cow worshipper, snake-worshipper, sun-worshipper, earth-worshipper, river-worshipper………………..