Uttarayan; Harvest it right
Uttarayan,(उत्तरायण) the Sun's apparent travel towards the north, is considered the start of auspicious days in the Hindu calendar or panchang. Commonly, Makar Sankranti ( मकर संक्रांति) and uttarayan are celebrated together; however, uttarayan or the apparent movement of the Sun towards the north, starts after the winter solstice, i.e. 22nd December.
Uttarayan is a time of hope and positivity. It scientifically means longer days and shorter nights as opposed to Dakshinayan( दक्षिणायन) when days are shorter & nights are longer.
It is believed in Hinduism that one human year is equal to 1 day of God, so six months of dakshinayan is the night of God when God is sleeping, and six months of uttarayan is the day of God when He is awake. So all auspicious activities are to be performed at this time.
Uttarayan period around Makar Sankranti is also the start of the harvesting season. So it is associated with all positive things like food, more sunlight and the absence of harsh cold climate in the northern hemisphere. Sun is Pratyaksh Brahman( प्रत्यक्ष ब्रह्मा), and Makar Sankranti is the celebration and thanksgiving to the source of life on this earth.
According to Mahabharat, Bhishma Pitamah was granted a boon of "Iccha Mrityu" by his father to choose the day of his death. He waited for several days on the bed of arrows in Kurukshetra and left his body only when Surya was uttarayan. Bhishma pitamah's choice to liberate himself from his physical and karmic bondage symbolises the importance of this period.
Makar Sankranti is the day of celebration of relations, especially for parents and their children, since it's believed that during this period, Lord Surya visits his son Lord Shani and stays with him for a month though they share a hostile relationship. This signifies the importance of family relationships beyond personal differences.
Makar Sankranti is one of the few Hindu festivals based on the solar calendar. According to a legend, Goddess Ganga, on pursuance of King Bhagirath, descended to earth on this day and reached Kapil muni ashram in Ganga Sagar, purifying the ashes of 60 thousand descendants of King Bhagirath. So it's a ritual by devout Hindus to visit Ganga Sagar on Makar Sankranti. Bhagirath undertook deep penance to get Holy Ganga on earth resulting in a commonly used term of " Bhagirath Prayatn" (भगीरथ प्रयत्न) for any extraordinary superhuman effort.
Hinduism is a progressive religion that gives various annual escapes from the past. It doesn't ask us to carry the burden of any unwanted feelings or experiences throughout our lives. Makar Sankranti is one such annual celebration of redemption, forgiveness and purification. Bhogi is a yearly festival celebrated widely in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, signifying change and transformation since people discard old and worn out things planning for a new beginning. Bhogi is celebrated on the first day of Makar Sankranti on 13th January every year.
Lohri, Pongal, Uttarayan, Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu, Magha Saji, Makar Basiba, Kichadi, Suggi, Maghi, Shishur Senkrant, celebrated with different names across the regions, have the same underlying significance. The unifying spirit in all these is the spirit of welcoming the harvest season, changing season, and looking at a new beginning with the worship of the Pratyaksha Brahman.
On Makar Sankranti, when the Sun is uttarayan, let's liberate ourselves from the bondage of negativity. Wash off our negative emotions, sin and start afresh. The widespread ritual of taking a dip in holy water symbolises undergoing inner purification. It's the time when we must vouch for taking up "Bhagirath prayatn" for a cause, however difficult, but resulting in the collective good.