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Jan
15
2016

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Why do we celebrate Sankranthi, your kids ask. And you give them this brilliant, poetic explanation: Sankranthi is a harvest festival that marks the beginning of the sun’s northward journey. To Hindus, the sun is an embodiment of knowledge, spiritual light, and wisdom – and so Sankranthi signifies that we should move away from darkness, ignorance, and delusion and gravitate towards purity and wisdom. Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya – may you go higher and higher, to more & more Light and never to Darkness, you loftily recite.

But what about the Winter Solstice? I thought the sun changed direction after the shortest day of the year – in December?, your science-y kid asks.

Pause.

It’s a brilliant question. Sankranthi is one of the rare holidays that follows the solar (as opposed to the lunar) calendar. There are actually 12 “sankranthis” in the year – marking when the sun moves into a different rashi, but the Makar Sankranthi is the most auspicious, marking the day the sun moves into the Makara Rashi. Historically, Makar Sankranthi and the Winter Solstice may have aligned on the same day; however, over the course of thousands of years, there has been a slight change in the way the Earth’s rotation axis is aligned to the sun. Hence the discrepancy.

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Thanks to Dr. Mayank Vahia (scientist working at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) for this explanation. You can read his full article here.

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