Sankranti – Dawn of a new Beginning

Pongal / Sankranti is more than new clothes, mouth-watering sweets, TV, latest movies, etc., that go with any festival. It is even more than signifying harvest or¬†harvest festival, as it is popularly known. It marks the dawn of a new beginning…

We need to understand this in light of

  1. The concept of time as understood in this part of the world and
  2. The month-long Thiruppavai / Margazhi / Ayyappa festivals which precedes Pongal/Sankranti

First about the concept of time…

As a day is roughly divided into 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night, a year is divided into six months of day and six months of night.

Roughly coinciding with summer and winter solstices, the period between Jan 15 and Jul 15 is called Uttarayanam or ‘day’ part of the year. The period from Jul 15 to Jan 15 is called Dakshinayanam or ‘night’ part of the year. Considering this the month ‘Margazhi’ falling between Dec 15 to Jan 15 is the pre-dawn hours of the year.

For ages Indians considered the pre-dawn period very auspicious and suitable for meditation and contemplation. Science has now understood and affirms this with predominance of alpha-rays in the environment, changes in ozone layer and other conducive changes in physical, physiological and psychological¬†nature of our body. The same holds true for the month of ‘Margazhi’ which is the pre-dawn period of the year. This is a period marked with lots of festivals and celebrated world over as the divine period of the year.

Significance of the month of ‘Margazhi’ and Thiruppavai…

What is so special about this month? What should one do in this month? Is this month all about rituals and festivals?

As one meditates, rejuvenates and plans for the day during the pre-dawn hours, one need to reflect, ponder, meditate, rejuvenate and plan for the year ahead during this month.

The way to do this is symbolised through the 30 pasurams (stanzas) of Thiruppavai, which are rendered and pondered upon, one on each day. The 30 pasurams of Thiruppavai are but 30 steps to develop the quality of ‘Sattwa’ guna in us. Sattwa guna is signified by the highest qualities – love, care, compassion, empathy, intuition, creativity, planning, all-inclusiveness, etc., one should strive to attain to lead a happy life. In nutshell, it talks about

  • the need to approach a mentor/guru
  • qualities of a good mentee/student
  • qualities of a good mentor/guru
  • right way of approaching a mentor/guru
  • what should one learn from his/her mentor/guru

The goals may be spiritual / material, but the essence of this learning is equally relevant to both. Based on one’s goal, one can reflect upon and plan for the year ahead.

In Tamil it is said ‘Thai pirandal vazhi pirakkum’. It is translated as the birth of ‘Thai’ (the month after Pongal), will open the way forward. As the new harvest also comes home during this period, it is looked forward to with lots of hopes to solve problems. Problems are solved not by following the rituals, but by understanding the significance behind and integrating it into our daily lives.

One need to use this month of festivities and prayers to relax, reflect, ponder, seek necessary guidance, plan and prepare to face the year ahead with rejuvenated vigour and confidence. It is probably for this reason, no personal celebrations like marriages, house-warming ceremonies, naming and cradling ceremonies, etc., are planned during this month. One is provided with enough time to consolidate on the experiences in the year that has gone by, invoke blessings of the divine and start anew with arrival of Pongal or Sankranti.

Another important festival of this month is Ayyappa vratham which also culminates with makara jyothi on the day of makara sankranti / pongal. Having a darshan of makara jyothi is symbolic of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after a month-long penance.

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