Maghe Sankranti literally is the first day of the month of Magh (January/February) i.e Magh, the 11th month on Nepali Calendar, and Sankranti, the first day of any Nepali month.
Maghe Sankranti aka Makar Sankranti is one of the major festivals of Hindus. The festival marks the beginning of the warm days after cold winters. As mentioned on the Hindu calendar, from this time onwards the sun starts moving towards the northern hemisphere. Thus, Maghe Sankranti observes the solstice event which is a joyful welcome to the happy warm days.
Common Religious Sites
You can find plenty of religious sites to observe Maghe Sankranti, but, Devghat in Chitwan is the most popular destination for the devotees. It is one of the famous religious and cultural destinations in central Nepal. People traditionally visit this place at least once in their life where they take a holy dip in the Triveni (confluence of three rivers) of Gandaki/Narayani Rivers. In fact, taking a holy bath on this day at these religiously important rivers is the tradition followed since long ago. Besides Devghat, other popular places are, Ridi of Kaligandaki, Koshi Riverbank, Dolalghat of Sunkoshi, and Shankhamul of the Bagmati River. Devotees worship Lord Vishnu and organize Puja rituals, and also read the holy scripture Bhagwat Gita of 700 verses while performing the rituals. Similarly, after the batheing people worship Sun God as well.
Common Arrangements of the Festival
Maghe Sankranti is just a one-day celebration. However, the festival needs a lot of preparation beforehand. People start brewing the food menu 2-3 days prior. Likewise, the vegetable marts look heavyset with the vegetable items for the customers. Whereas, the children look excited, seeing the things flooding at their kitchen.
Most Common Special Food:
The most common food items in the Nepalese Hindu kitchen on Maghe Sankranti include usineko sakharkhanda (boiled sweet potato), tarul (yam) with its variations, pindalu (taro roots) with its variety, chakku (molasses), til ko laddu (sesame seed sweet), ghee (unsalted butter), maha (honey), fulaura (black gram nuggets), selroti (sweet ringed bread), pulau (special rice dish), khichadi (rice and lentil porridge). People enjoy many other readymade sweet desserts in addition, at the family gathering.
Maghe Sankranti as an Agent of Family Reunion:
The family congregation is not only the family within, it also includes the married daughters with her husband and children to their mother’s home. With the family meal, the daughter’s family also get tika (red mark on forehead) and money gifts as a welcome for Jawain Raja (son in law).
Maghi, for Tharu Community
At its Core
The Tharus are an ethnic group aboriginal to the Terai, Southern Nepal. Maghi is how they call Maghe Sankranti in their language and it is one of their major festivals and also their New Year’s Day. Moreover, Maghi is the festival of Harvest. Therefore, the festival is the time of celebration as they start rejoicing after the heavy fieldwork during the harvest.
The Tharu community enjoys a variety of festive food at Makar Sankranti. The assortment includes different types of meals, beverages, and meat influenced by the caste within the Tharu community. Then, the typical food items enjoyed by different Tharu castes are Muskar ka Sikar (curry of rice-field mice or barbecued one), Gantata Chutney (fried crab with spices), Kharia (fried patties of black lentils & spice paste), Pakuwa (Barbecued pig or wild boar), Bhakka (fluffy steamed rice cake), Dhikri (steamed rice flour dough), Jhor/Jaar (rice or other grain’s liquor), Masural, Sidhara (curry made from colocasia leaves and small dried fish), Ghongi (the river snail), Keshadi Chhitka (salad made of a variety of wild greens), boiled seasonal root plants, laddu (sweet balls made from sesame seeds or puffed rice with jaggery), turtle meat curry, chicken variety, pork variety, fish variety etc.
It’s interesting to mention here that snail, mouse and ghongi are not the common food for all the Tharus. Rather, these are commonly consumed by the so-called lower caste (castes that earned the name by their poverty since the historical times) Tharus. Whereas, chicken, mutton, fish are consumed by the upper-class Tharus.
Maghi is a weeklong festival that is concluded on Maghe Sankranti. During the festival, they carry out a lot of cultural dancings, dressing ups in their own traditional wears and celebrate with good food with their near ones.
Makar Sankranti of Magar Community:
Like Tharus, Maghe Sankranti is a special festival of Magar community too. Magar is one of the indigenous tribes and the third largest ethnolinguistic groups of Nepal. They live mainly on the western and southern part and the northern Dhaulagiri mountain massif of the country. The Magars observe Makar Sankranti with great importance. The community invites their married daughters home for the festivity. Like other community groups, Magars also celebrate the festival together with a gathering of their family members, relatives, and friends.
The major attraction of Makar Sankranti is the Mela (fair) at Tudikhel, the only huge ground in the heart of Capitol city and a place for national demonstrative events. Tharus and Magars pour at Tundikhel dressed up sassily in their cultural dresses for eating, drinking, and merry-making. Delicacies at the fair include boiled and fried sweet potatoes augmenting the aforementioned Maghe Sankranti special foods.
Maghe Sankranti for Newars:
Maghe Sankranti is a special festival for Hindus all over the country, and very important to the Newar community too. They call the festival “Ghya Chaku Sahlu”; Ghya means ghee, Chaku means Molasses and Sahlu means the first day of a month. Correspondingly the festival which includes the most common food ghee and molasses is Newars’ Maghe Sankranti.
Importance of Maghe Sankranti:
First of all, the significance of the festival is creating a union among and between the family members and also community solidarity. Second, Maghe Sankranti is a holy day for people who think, if anyone dies on this day gets Moksha (liberation from the sorrowful cycle of birth and death). With various religious beliefs, people of different cultural groups, celebrate Maghe Sankranti in their own unique manner. Third, it plays the role to preserve rich Nepalese cultural practices engaging the new generation in the festival. Moreover, the celebration of Maghe Sankranti includes an exchange of wishes for healthy and prosperous lives for each other. The giving and taking of wishes represent the bond of unity with the members of the community. Finally, the festival stands for the holy phase of evolution. Therefore, it is one of the religiously important celebrations in itself.
Hindus observe Maghe Sankranti all over Nepal with great enthusiasm and solidarity. People belonging to various cultural groups celebrate this auspicious day with their own traditional norms. Accordingly, Maghe Sankranti is described in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Consequently, the faith in the festival always remains paramount. On this day, people dip in running water and worship the Sun god. People consider the Sun as the symbol of creation, protection, and divinity.