Pradeep Pattanayak

Usually, Makar Sankranti falls on January 14 every year. But, this year, this festival is being celebrated today, i.e. January 15. 
In leap years, the festival is celebrated on January 15 instead of January 14. 

What Pongal is to Tamil Nadu, Lohri to Punjab, Bihu or Magh Bihu is to Assam, Makar Sankranti is the same occasion to Odisha. The festival is being celebrated with a lot of pomp and gaiety across the state. 

The festival marks the first day of Sun’s transition into Makara Rashi (Capricorn). It also marks the end of the winter and the start of longer days. Because of the Sun's transition, on this day, people worship the Sun God for the well-being of them and their family members.

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People usually get up early and start their day by taking a dip in holy rivers and other water bodies near them.

A large number of People gather at Konark in Puri district to offer puja to the Sun God. They choose Konark because of its link with the Sun. 

The portmanteau of Konark is ‘Kona’, which means corner in English and ‘Ark’ meaning ‘Sun'. The place assumes importance as there is a temple dedicated to the Sun God, which is known all over the world for its architectural marvels. The temple’s design is like the chariot of the Sun God with 24 wheels, driven by seven horses.

A widely believed theory is that if the Sun God is worshipped on Makara Sankranti, the God accepts the prayers and saves His devotees from all problems. On this occasion, devotees take a holy dip in Chandrabhaga Sea and offer prayers to the Sun God.

People in large number also throng the Ganga in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh to offer prayers to the Sun God.

There is a tradition that after taking a dip in holy rivers, devotees offer prayers to the Sun God and then donate black sesame seeds, blankets and other articles. It is believed that donation of black sesame seeds and sesame oil reduces the ill effects of planets like 'Shani' and 'Rahu'. Consumption of ladoos prepared from sesame seeds is also advised. 

The festival is also celebrated in a grand way at several temples including the Jagannath Temple in Puri, at Hatakeshwar temple at Atri in Khordha district, Dhabaleswar Temple in Cuttack and Makara Muni temple in Balasore.

On the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti, special rituals of Lord Jagannath and His siblings are observed. The deities give darshan to devotees in ' Makar Chourashi Besha'. On this day, a special 'paan' is offered to Lord Jagannath. This special 'paan' is said to be the world's largest 'paan'. 

Since it is an agrarian festival and in Odisha festivals are incomplete without sweets and mouth-watering delicacies, on this day, a traditional and special dish is prepared with 'Makara Chaula' or newly harvested rice.