Makara Sankranthi festival is celebrated all over India typically on 14th or 15th January. From this day in the Tropic of Capricorn, Makara Sankramana as it is called, the Sun moves from South to North, and, so this day is celebrated as an auspicious festival, celebrating the Sun. This northward journey of the Sun is also known as Uttarayana. For most parts of India, Sankranthi is also a harvest festival and is celebrated during the early stages of the agricultural season when crops are sown, hard work is done, and it is a time to rejoice. Fairs are organised in various parts of India and in many cities, children and adults enjoy kite flying competitions to celebrate this occasion. Various foods are of course an important part of this celebration and sweet and savory foods are eaten.
Sankranthi, Pongal, Bihu and Lohri are different names of the festival celebrated in different parts of India to celebrate the end of the winter season and to welcome the spring season and the new year. Although, these festivals have different names, the essence of celebration remains the same. Makar Sankranthi is celebrated in Maharashtra and Gujarat, Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Kerala or South India and Lohri in Punjab or North India. All these are celebrated on the auspicious day of Sankranthi.
The spiritual significance of all festivals, including Sankranthi, is especially important. As the Sun moves toward the north, what does the north signify? The north signifies the direction our minds have to go to reach realisation or liberation from this cycle of birth and death. This Urrarayana is the key for spiritual progress. Sathya Sai Baba has repeatedly told us in many discourses that the true northward journey occurs inside each one of us. The intellect has to turn inward, toward the heart, and then bliss is experienced. Swami has encouraged us to use our God-given intellect to work hard to reach the goal of life―Self realisation.
Swami spoke about Sankranthi and Uttarayana in His 1962 discourse:
This day has an outer and inner significance, the inner having a greater value for aspirants for spiritual progress. I do not attach much value for the outer meaning…One’s life must be a perpetual spiritual practice. Uttarayana is a matter of attitude…when your sight is on Brahman, it is Utarrayana…
But for the real Uttarayana, you must make effort, tremendous efforts…The path is straight and hard, but the goal is glorious. It is nothing less than illumination. When you crave the thought of the Lord and the company of the godly, then you are in Uttarayana.
Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol. 2 Ch. 29, January 14, 1962