The Joyful Celebration of Maghe Sankranti
The festival of Maghe Sankranti is held throughout Nepal in mid-January each year. This is the beginning of the holy month of Magh, and Maghe Sankranti is believed to bring an end to the preceding ill-omened month of Poush, during which all religious ceremonies are forbidden. This festival also marks the coming of warmer weather and longer days, therefore adherents look forward to better days of health and good fortune.
Irrespective of how cold the weather may be on the festival day, bearing in mind that January is mid-winter, those that celebrate the festival of Maghe Sankranti will participate in holy bathing in sacred rivers and streams. Sankhamole, situated on the banks of the holy Bagmati River, is considered to be amongst the most sacred sites for the purpose of holy bathing and paying homage to various deities, of which Red Machindranath, the patron deity of Nepal, is foremost.
During the festival of Maghe Sankranti, foods believed to bring good fortune are prepared. These include laddoos (sesame seed cakes), chaku (sweet prepared from boiled and hardened molasses), ghee (clarified butter), khichari (rice and lentils), sweet potatoes and spinach. Families gather together to share this traditional cuisine. Married daughters and families will visit the parental home for the festivities. Many homes call a priest to conduct puja (a religious ceremony), which includes chanting from holy books.
As with all religious festivals, Maghe Sankranti has its own legend. This legend is centered on a merchant from the town of Bhadgoan, who noticed that his sesame seed supply never ran out. When he searched through the sesame seeds he found an idol of the Lord Vishnu hidden deep amongst the seeds. This has lead to the worship of the Til Madhav idol in the belief that the Bhadgoan community will always have a generous supply of food.
Another belief that is closely tied in with the festival of Maghe Sankranti is that, according to the epic, Mahabharata, King Bhisma had the power to control his own death. He chose to die on the day of Maghe Sankranti, giving credence to the belief that anyone that dies on that day might achieve Moksha – a release from the cycle of death and rebirth with all its associated suffering.
Certainly the festival of Maghe Sankranti is a meaningful one for the large majority of the inhabitants of Nepal. If you travel to Nepal, this is just one of the many events you can learn about that make this country a fascinating tourist destination.