Maghe Sankranti is a Nepali festival which is celebrated on 1st of Magh every year, according to Bikram Sambat Nepali calendar. The word ‘Sankranti’ stands for 1st of every month in Nepali, and hence the first day of month of Magh is celebrated as Maghe Sankranti. Also known as ‘Makar Sankranti’ or Uttarayana, this day is believed to be the coldest day of the year, and celebrated as people hope for the spring season to come very soon after this. This festival is celebrated merely by the Hindus of Nepal, and a small amount of Indian Hindus celebrate it as ‘Makar Sankranti’. According to the calendar, in this day, the Sun starts northwards to ‘Makar Rashi’.
Even though celebrated by all Hindus of Nepal, the ‘Maghe Sankranti’ festival is considered a big one for Newars in Kathmandu valley, and the Tharu community in western Terai, in Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke, Bardiya and Dang districts. In Newar community it is famous with the name of Ghya chaku sahlu. In Newari language, Ghya means ghee, chaku means Molasses and sahlu means sankranti. The Tharu community consider Maghe Sankranti (they prefer to call it as ‘Maghi’) their greatest festival, and celebrate it for almost a week (from last days of Poush to 3rd of Magh) by singing and dancing, similar to the ‘Deusi’ of Tihar festival. They prepare a special meal called ‘Dhikri’ made from rice flour, and also have a lot of liquors and meat of pigs, chicken, boars or ducks.
In this day, the Hindus take ritual bath in early morning, on the holy places all over the country such as Bagmati river in Sankhamul, Kathmandu, Gandaki basin at Triveni near the Indian Border, Devghat in Chitwan, Koshi river basin at Dolalghat and many more. Foods such as sweet potato, laddoo (especially made from Seasame) and ghee are distributed, and are also prepared in most of the houses and the families have them together as fiestas.
The Kirat community celebrate this day as ‘Yele Dhung’, as their new year. This is celebrated to share the joy of the day when the Kirant king Yalambar invaded the Kathmandu valley and started his reign.
Origin of Maghe Sankranti
As mentioned in the legends, there was a Merchant in Bhadgaun (now Baktapur), who was doing a good business. He had good sale of sesame, but the stock never ran out. He searched for the clue. Cleaning the stock pile he found the Idol of Lord Vishnu down beneath the seeds. Then after the Idol is being worshipped as Til Madhav Idol. It is believed worshipping the idol would bring supply of food, prosperity and wealth to Bhakatapur. It’s also the day commemorating the death of Viswapitamaha, the elderly grandfather of two families of Pandavas and Kauravas, between whom the famous battle of Mahabharat took place. He was determined not to die until the way to the region of gods opened. While lying on the bed of arrows he discovered words of wisdom on life and death. Eventually, through his free will he succumbed to death. Hence it’s believed that those who die on this day go to heaven, released from the burden of rebirth.