Makar Sankranti is of great significance to a devote Hindu and is one of the most important dates in the Hindu Calendar. Lord Surya (Sun God) is worshiped on this day. Every living and non-living being merges with the Brahman and Sun is the Pratyaksha-Brahman or the Brahman that can be seen. Makar Sankranti also heralds the arrival of spring.
The importance of Sun to earth and to the living beings was understood by Hindus from the very beginning. And the importance of it can be found in the Gayatri Mantra chanted to Sun (Surya) daily.
Makar Sankranti signals the end of winter and the onset of spring throughout the northern hemisphere. The period is referred to as Uttarayan Punyakalam and is considered auspicious. For the next six months, the days are longer and warmer. Legend has it that the Devas wake up after a six-month long slumber during this period.
There is also a symbolic meaning to Makara Sankranti. ‘Makar’ means crocodile. Sankranti means ‘to cross into or change.’ The ‘Makara’ or crocodile represents the materialistic world and ‘Sankranti’ gives an opportunity to get away from the clutches of the crocodile or the materialistic world.
The six month long Uttarayana begins on the Makar Sankrant day. From this day, the harshness of winter subsidizes and the days get longer. Symbolically, the Sun slowly removes darkness and ushers in the light of knowledge. Uttarayana is also the daytime of the Devas and therefore auspicious activities takes place during this period.
There are also numerous legends and myths which add to the importance of Makara Sankranti.
One of the most important myths is the death of Bhishma Pitamaha in the Mahabharata. Bhishma chose the Uttarayan period. (Bhisma had got a boon from his father that he will only die when he wishes.) It is believed that people who die during Uttarayana merges with the Brahman, thus ending the cycle of rebirth.
Legend also has it that Lord Vishnu buried Asuras on this day beneath the
. It signifies the end of evil and the dawn of righteousness. Mandara Mountain
Another legend is that King Bhageeratha brought
Ganges down into Patala on Makara Sankranti day. This was to get salvation to his ancestors who were cursed by Sage Kapila and turned into ashes. On this day millions of people take bath in the Ganges. Makara Sankranti is also an important bathing date during Kumbh Mela and Magh Mela.
Puranas state that on Makar Sankranti day, Surya visits Lord Shani. In mythology Lord Shani, is the son of Surya.