Sankranti generally means the first day of the month. Thus, the first day of the Nepalese month Magh is celebrated as Maghe Sankranti. Yet, the distinguished community of Nepal celebrates this day under different names and conducts different activities.
The day also indicates that warm days are coming, saying goodbyes to the gloomy dark winter days.
Nepalese people including newars commemorate this festival formerly, with their family members. Newar people of Bhaktapur are entitled to this festival ghya chaku Sankranti because of the dish, that they prefer to eat, on the same day. They set a Newari plate with ghya (butter), chaku( molasses), sweet potatoes, and cassava (Tarul).
There is one legend related to Bhaktapur and Maghe Sankranti which goes like this.
As per the legend, a Merchant of Bhadgaun, now Baktapur was creating a good business of sesame. Even he gets surprised seeing that the stock never ran out of sesame. He then searched for some hints. In meanwhile, when he was cleaning the stockpile, he found the Idol of Lord Vishnu down beneath the seeds, which is now worshipped as Til Madhav Narayan.
It is believed worshipping the idol would bring a supply of food, prosperity, and wealth to Bhaktapur.
source: cultures of Nepal
There is another belief related to the Bhismapitamaha who was the son of the river Ganga and king Santanu in the Epic Mahabharata. It was said that he had such power that he could have control over his death (Ikcha Mitru). (Mahabharat is the Hindu great epic, and the world’s biggest epic ever written).
And, this day is considered the day when Bhismapitamaha was lying in the bed of arrows all hit by Arjun and discovered the words of wisdom of life and death. It is also believed that people dying this day go to heaven and get to be free from the suffering of life, death, and rebirth.
“Sankranti” is the Sanskrit word in Eastern Astrology that refers to the movement of the Sun from one Rashi (a sign of the zodiac) to another. Here, a Rashi means a sign of the zodiac. In a very simple word, Sankranti means the very first day of the Nepali calendar which makes it obvious that there are 12 such Sankranti in a year.
Moreover, Maghe Sankranti is studied as the turn of the Sun from Dhanu Rashi (Sagittarius) to Makara Rashi (Capricorn). No wonder, why it is also called Makara Sankranti. However, Sadhguru considers Makar Sankranti as a festival based on a deep understanding of the universe and the geometry of man.
In Hindu Astrology, the position of the sun during the year is divided into 12 Rashis (zodiac signs). It is, however, very difficult to arrange amongst Bikram Sambat months, Zodiac months, and lunar calendar months. While the traditional Calendar is based on lunar positions, Sankranti is also celebrated as a solar event.
People take baths and massage with mustard oil on the same day due to an aged belief. There is also a myth about cooking sweet potatoes and cassava (Tarul) the day before maghe Sankranti. So that the old quote “poush ma pakya, Magh ma khyaka” could come alive.
The quote “poush ma pakya, Magh ma khyaka” means, cooked on poush and eaten on magh.
This festival is a bit similar to Yomari Punhi in the sense of having a feast and giving importance to a particular dish.
This day by some means is also important for the followers of Buddhism. Most of the time, on this auspicious day, Shyakas and Bajracharyas people perform a ritual named samyak dan. It is a donating event, that usually takes place at Na: pukhu of Bhaktapur.
People in Nepal follow the lunar calendar. That’s why dates could be changeable to do Samyak dan.
The first day of Magh is celebrated in the Terai by the Tharu community as Maghi or the New Year. It is a week-long festival celebration that they celebrate by getting together as a family and friends, attending community gets together or mela, dressing up in the traditional Tharu wear, feasting, drinking, and making merry.
“On the occasion of Maghe Sankranti, every year Taruka village of Nuwakot organizes a Bullfight (Ox fight). It also believes that people dying this day will directly go to heaven without suffering and get a rebirth.”
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