Sunday, January 15, 2012

Makara Sankranti

The Makara Sankranthi day that usually falls on January 14th,  falls on January 15th this year. According to Wikipedia:

Sankranti is the Sanskrit word in Indian Astrology which refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi (sign of the zodiac) to another. Hence there are 12 such sankrantis in all. However, the Sankranti festival usually refers to Makara Sankaranti, or the transition of the Sun from Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) to Makara rashi (Capricorn).

For this purpose, the signs and houses of the zodiac are calculated using sidereal time, not tropical. As such it does not account for the Earth's precession. The festival therefore takes place around 21 days after the winter solstice (between December 20 and 23) that marks the starting of the phenomenon of 'northward apparent migration of the sun' or Uttarayana, literally meaning northward journey of Sun.

Considering the winter solstice marks the beginning of the gradual increase of the duration of the day. Scientifically, the shortest day of the year is around December 21–22 after which the days begin to get longer, hence actual Winter Solstice begins on December 21 or December 22 when the tropical sun enters Makara rashi. Hence actual Uttarayana is December 21. This was the actual date of Makar Sakranti too. But because of the Earth's tilt of 23.45 degrees and sliding of equinoxes, Ayanamsa occurs. This has caused Makara Sankranti to slide further over the ages. A thousand years ago, Makar Sankranti was on December 31 and is now on January 14. Five thousand years later, it shall be by the end of February, while in 9,000 years it shall come in June.

While the traditional Indian Calendar is based on lunar positions, Sankranti is a solar event. So while dates of all Hindu festivals keep changing as per the Gregorian calendar, the date of Makar Sankranti remains constant over a long term, 14 January. Makar Sankranti is celebrated in the Hindu Calendar month of Magha

I couldn’t follow the reasoning, but it appears that some kind of tweaking is done in the calendar to account for the earth’s tilt. Will it be on Jan 15th next year too? I don’t know the answer.

Anyway, I was curious to know if the Makara Jothi event in Sabarimala that falls on Makara Sankranti also got shifted to Jan 15th this year.

Yes, it did.

The divine light, it appears, also does the same tweaking that humans have done with the calendar and manifests itself to devotees accordingly.

Update 160112:

A commenter has linked to an old article in The Hindu which quoted the President of the Travancore Dewaswom Board (that administers the temple) and the Chief Priest of the temple as saying that the Makarajyothi was man-made. It quotes a few others as well who disagree with above.

The statement made by Kummanam Rajashekharan, Hindu Aikayvedi general secretary, that “Makarajyothi, whether it is man-made or not has found a divine religious niche in the minds of every Ayyappa devotee” is interesting. It conveys that a devotee has a right to believe what he likes to believe. That’s what ‘faith’ is all about.

An aspect of faith rationalists tend to ignore is that, in its benevolent form, it binds people together in a common cause. If a million devotees need to assemble in a place, the binding factor must be something extraordinary. One can argue that ‘faith’ in an artificial entity is irrational, but if that irrational faith can serve to unite people, it is stupid to disregard its positive features. I know many people who form their own groups every December and start their preparations for a Sabarimala visit. The countdown to the actual travel involves prayer sessions in houses of different members, and manages to bring together families and friends. For these groups, the question whether the jyothi is man-made or a divine phenomenon is of no significance. There is a larger, unstated purpose - coming together as a group and revelling in each other’s company. The 'faith' provides the solemn  'pretext' for the meeting. I don’t join these groups on their travel or in their prayers, but I certainly look forward to the opportunity of catching up with friends, when invited to any of the sessions.

Faith can take a dangerous form, as we well know. But to keep harping on this is to take a very cynical view of the world.

Also, all of us living in the modern world, are victims of some kind of brand-conditioning. Faith in a brand is no less irrational than faith in a divine light.


Shruthi said...

Ha ha!!

Anonymous said...

Let me try to explain. If the religious calendar did apply a correction to account for the change in earth's tilt, we would be celebrating makara sankranti on Dec 21st. Since we do not apply the correction, the current day 'religious' calendar is stuck on a sankranti date that was accurate 2000 years ago.
Yet another case of "my religious book says that way" syndrom when the truth is glaring out there as bright as daylight (in this case, almost literally).
As far as Makara Jyoti is concerned, this should be enlightening

Raj said...

Anon, NS: Thanks. But that doesn't explain why it fell on Jan 15th this time, instead of the usual Jan 14th. And, thanks for that link to The Hindu article. It prompted some thoughts which I've added to my post today.