Sankranti or Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival celebrated in India. Makar refers to Capricorn in the Hindu Zodiac system and Sankranti in Sanskrit means transit. Unlike most Indian festivals that are celebrated according to the lunar calendar, Makar Sankranti is a solar calendar event that marks the transition or movement of the sun into Makar Rāshi as well as the end of winter. For this reason, it falls on almost the same date, January 14th or 15th each year in the Gregorian calendar used worldwide today. Makar Sankranti is known by different names in different regions of India. For instance, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Lohri in Punjab, Poush Sankranti in Bengal, and Magh Bihu in Assam (Magh is the name of the lunar month). Each region brings in its own creativity and beautiful local customs to celebrate the harvest by worshipping Surya, the sun god.
In addition to the worship of the sun god, one of the common themes of this occasion is to bathe in one of five holy rivers to wash away past sins. In fact, Sankranti is considered so auspicious in some circles that it is believed that anyone who died on this day would go directly to heaven. No more reincarnation for them! As a child growing up alongside one of these holy rivers, taking a dip in the waters was a fun childhood activity for me, but for millions of devoted pilgrims, this is an altogether serious spiritual matter. It is estimated that around 50 to 100 million people participate in the Kumba Mela pilgrimage held once every twelve years. And annually 40 to 50 million pilgrims of the Sabarimala take the 41-day vratham (fast) in eager anticipation of the journey and opportunity for a darshan (vision) of Makara Jyothi – the holy viewing of a particular star on Makar Sankranti. These are some of the deeply profound activities tied to Sankranti.
The wholistic approach
Perhaps one could think of Sankranti as bringing together the earthly (harvest), the celestial (sun and the stars), and the spiritual (cleansing of sins). A spiritual pilgrim is acutely aware that the cleansing of sins is required for us to lead an abundant and fruitful life. But even if the holy rivers could cleanse past sins, our sinning nature relentlessly pushes us towards more sins. In order to be fully cleansed the sin nature within us has to be defeated. We really need something infinitely powerful to accomplish this transformation. Let’s take a look at this from God’s perspective:
“Every good and perfect gift is from God. This kind of gift comes down from the Father who created the heavenly lights. These lights create shadows that move. But the Father does not change like these shadows. God chose to give us new birth through the message of truth. He wanted us to be the first harvest of his new creation.” – James 1:17-18
God is the giver of all good gifts, including bountiful harvests (earthly). God is the creator of the light, sun, moon & stars (celestial). Unlike the sun, which creates shadows that moves and changes, God remains unchanging and faithful through every season. And this God chooses to give us new birth through the ‘message of truth’ to make us the first harvest of his new creation (spiritual).
What is the Message of Truth?
First of all, none of us is free of sin. We all have sinned and missed God’s standard. Within ourselves and external cleansing agents like holy rivers, there is not enough strength to overpower our sinful nature, so spiritually we are dead within. But the good news is while we are still helpless, out of great love for us, Jesus who never sinned, took the entire weight of our punishment for sins. As a result, when we repent and agree to obey what Jesus teaches, we receive forgiveness for our sins. God himself comes to live within us permanently like an internal guru to give us the power to overcome the sin nature. When God comes to live within us, it’s the start of a new life. This new birth is permanent, and God will complete the cleansing. So even when our body perishes our Atma continues to live with God, there is no more reincarnation! We receive Anantha Jeevan (unending life) on the very day of the new birth.
Yeshu is our sin cleansing river
Though I have had my dips in a holy river, I am not certain of its effectiveness other than external cleansing. But, I know that God’s message of truth ultimately led me to the person who embodies it: Jesus. Yeshu is my sin cleansing river. I have not yet arrived where Jesus wants me to be, but I know that he will never give up on me. Jesus continually cleanses me spiritually through his message to teach, correct, encourage, comfort, and guide me to make my life a fruitful harvest for him. As a fellow pilgrim, I would wholeheartedly welcome you to take a dip in this sin cleansing River. Explore for yourselves by watching the film Life of Jesus in which you will also find many stories of changed lives. It is available in the following languages: English, Hindi, Gujarathi, Punjabi, Marathi, or Urdu.
May you experience this new birth and may Yeshu make you abundantly fruitful. Let this personal fruitfulness become part of your Makar Sankranti celebration. Yeshu is a pilgrim’s paradise.