This is a Hindu festival celebrated on the day the sun enters the zodiac sign (rashi) of Capricorn (Makar) and hence called Makara Sankranti. According to the lunar calendar, the sun transits from the Tropic of Cancer into the Tropic of Capricorn or from the Dakshinayana into Uttarayana in the month of Poush in mid-January. The northward revolution (uttarayan) of the sun begins on this day.
The period from the passage of the sun into the zodiac sign of Cancer (Karka) till the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makar sankrant) is called the southward revolution (dakshinayan). A person who dies during this period of the southward revolution of the sun has a greater chance of going to the southward region (hell or Yamalok) than one who dies during the northward revolution.
Sankranti is considered to be a deity. According to Hindu mythology, the deity Sankranti slayed a demon called Sankarasur on the day of Makar sankrant. The Hindu religious almanac (panchang) provides detailed information on the form, age, clothing, direction of movement, etc., of the deity Sankranti in accordance to the changes occurring as per the time (kal). The day followed by Makar sankrant is called Kinkrant or Karidin. On this day, the female deity (devi) slayed the demon Kinkarasur.
According to the science of Spirituality, during the period of the passage of the sun into Capricorn, since sesame seeds (or sesame oil) have greater ability to absorb sattva frequencies than any other seeds or their oil, they facilitate smooth spiritual practice during this period. According to Ayurveda, since Makar sankrant falls in winter, consumption of sesame seeds is beneficial, as the oil in the sesame seeds generates body heat, preventing the ill effects of the cold. Hence, maximum use of sesame seeds is made on Makar sankrant.
Thus, in celebration of Makar sankrant, one should bathe with water containing sesame (oil or seeds), eat and distribute sweets containing sesame seeds, such as tilgul (sesame seeds coated with sugar syrup or jaggery), offer sesame seeds to brahmans (Hindu priests), lighting lamps of sesame oil in a temple of Lord Shiva, and perform a rite for one's departed ancestors (pitrushraddha) by making an offering of sesame. The use of sesame in an offering to ancestors (shraddha) prevents negative energies like demons, etc., from posing obstacles in the rite.
In North India this festival is called Lohri and is celebrated by distributing sugarcane juice,new jaggery and sweets made from peanuts and sesame.These sweets are intrinsic to this festival because the ingredients are believed to be heat-producing and keep the body warm in the winter. In Gujarat and other western states , Uttarayana or the change in the direction of winds at this time of year is markes by thousands of colorfulkites which dot the clear blue sky.
In Maharashtra, Karnataka and parts of Andhra, Makara Sankranti is a day of goodwill and friendship. Sesame Chikki ladoos and sugar drops are distributed by everyone as a symbol of the need to be generous and kind to everyone. In the south, Sankaranti becomes Pongal, a harvest festival.cows and bulls are decorated and taken out in procession around villages.The first rice of the new harvest is ritually offered to the sun god and cooked in different ways to symbolise plenty.