The festival of Makar Sankranti is the biggest festival of the Telugu people. They live in South India and are 74 million strong (as per the 2001 Indian Census report). That’s more than the current population of France. I am one among them. The ‘Makar’ in Makar Sankranti is the zodiac sign used in the South Asian system of astronomy. It corresponds with Capricorn of the Western zodiac.

Makar or Makara is depicted as an aquatic beast, a most fantastic permutation and combination of animals (ranging from the sprawling crocodile to the trumpeting elephant). But I suspect it to be inspired by the former. Marsh crocodiles or ‘muggers’ (Crocodylus palustris) were once common in South Asian rivers. They were associated with gods (like the mighty Varuna of the sea and the underworld) or mentioned in folk tales (the Buddhist Jatakas).

I will explore the origins of Makara later as I am running out of time. But the festival is almost around the corner. It is a mighty affair, with kite-flying contests, cockfights, feasts, bonfires and musical performances in villages. This goes on for four days. Based on the solar calendar, it marks the northward movement of the Sun from the Dhanusha rashi (a zodiac sign corresponding to Sagittarius) to the Makara rashi (named after the crocodile-like creature). The dates for Makar Sankranti in 2017 are as follows:

  • 13th January, 2017: Bhogi
  • 14th January, 2017: Pedda Panduga
  • 15th January, 2017: Kanuma Panduga
  • 16th January, 2017: Mukkanuma

Wishing all of you a Happy Sankranti! As promised, I will explore the origins of the fantastical Makara in a later post. Till then, you can enjoy one of the many examples of its use in South Asian iconography. I clicked this particular photo on a trip to the Sun Temple of Konark in the neighbouring state of Odisha.