Today is the first feast day of 2018 - Makar Sankranti.
Makar Sankranti, also known as Makara Sankranti or Maghi, is an ancient Hindu solar festival celebrating the Sun God, Surya Devta and marking the sun's transit into the Makara (Capricorn) welcoming longer days.
Surya Devta - the Sun God
According to the Puranas (A collection of Hindu Myths and Legends) the God Surya, as the source of great power is the creator of the universe and the source of all life; bringing light and warmth to the world and curing disease.
Each day he travels across the sky in his golden chariot pulled by seven horses (or a single horse with seven heads) and driven by Aruna, a personification of Dawn - as shown in the image above.
The number seven is symbolic representing both the seven colours of the rainbow and the seven chakras.
In this image Surya has 4 hands (typical of Hindu deities) holding a lotus (a symbol of the sun’s creative force), Sankha (conch which holds sacred water), Chakra (discus to use as a weapon) and Gada (mace - also a weapon only used by the very strong).
Surya is also important as the mythological father of many notable sons, including Manu (progenitor of the human race), Yama (god of the dead), the Ashvins (twin physicians to the gods), Karna (a great warrior in the Mahabharata), and Sugriva (king of the monkeys in the Ramayana).
Celebrating Makar Sankranti
During Makar Sankranti colourful decorations are out up and there is feasting. There are fairs or melas, dances, bonfires and kite flying. Children go from house to house, singing and asking for treats (or pocket money) in a similar way to our Halloween.
Makar Sankrati is also a time of pilgrimage for Hindus with 40 to 100 million people bathing to cleanse themselves of sin and giving thanksgiving to the sun on the shores of Gangasagar (where the Rivers Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal). For more on this year's pilgrimage see this article.
So all it remains for me to say is Happy Makar Sankranti!