Makar Sankranti is one of the most important Hindu festivals and is celebrated widely across India and Nepal on 14 January. The day marks the end of the winter solstice and the monsoon, and the beginning of the harvest season. It is known by different names in different parts of India, commonly being referred to as Thai Pongal in Tamil Nadu and other areas of southern India, and Lohri in Punjab, where it is celebrated the day before. The festival is celebrated through a variety of different traditions, the most popular one being the flying of kites.
In this gallery, we first look at devotees preparing for Makar Sankranti festivities in two locations: Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh state, and Ganga Sagar (or Sagar Island) near Kolkata. Devotees and sadhus (Hindu holy men) mark the day by taking a dip at Ganga Sagar, the point where the River Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal. In Uttar Pradesh state, up to two million Hindus gather to bathe at Sangam, the confluence of the Rivers Ganges and Yamuna — and the invisible or mythical Saraswati River.
The festival of Lohri marks the beginning of the harvest festival in India's northern state of Punjab. Celebrated annually on 13 January, Lohri marks the end of the coldest month of the year, prompting people to celebrate as they offer thanks to the gods for the crops they are about to harvest. Many Hindus in northern India celebrate the festival with bonfire ceremonies and kites.
In southern India, Thai Pongal is marked by a prayer of gratitude for providing the energy for agriculture. The participants pay tribute to the Sun, Surya, and pay homage to cattle for their vital role in agriculture and farming. The festival is held on the first day of Thai (the tenth month of the Tamil calendar), marking the commencement of the sun's northward journey from its southernmost end, referred to as Uttarayana. Part of the celebration consists of the boiling of the first rice of the season or cooking traditional sweet dishes on open fires.