When should Pongal/Makar Samkranti be celebrated and why?

An incomplete understanding and misreading of the Shastras in the modern age, has led people to celebrate Pongal on the wrong day.

When should Pongal/Makar Samkranti be celebrated and why?


Pongal/Makar Samkranti is one of the most famous festivals of the entire Hindu community the world over, irrespective of caste and creed. But unfortunately, we are celebrating even such an important festival, besides all the other festivals—and muhurtas—on wrong days as per the following details:

1. There are no Mesha, Vrisha etc Rashis in the Vedas or the Vedangas. Hence Makar Samkranti or any other Rashi based Samkranti is not a Vedic term.

2. Uttarayana (Winter Solstice) is the shortest day of the year. It has been extolled by all the Vedas and shastras. During the Vedic period, it was a sort of the New Year’s Day, as per all the Vedas and the Vedanga Jyotisham.

3. During the Siddhantic period later, it was that very Uttarayana (Winter Solstice) that became known as Pongal/Makar Samkranti.  Similarly, Vishuva (Vernal Equinox) became known as Mesha Samkranti/Meshadi; Dakshinayana (Summer Solstice) as Karkata Samkranti and Vishuvan (Autumn Equinox) as Tula Samkranti, as per all the Hindu scriptures like the Smritis, the epics, Puranas and even the Siddhantas!Get monthly updates 
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Evidence from multiple sources


1. Srimad Bhagavata, the most favourite Purana of Vaishanavas as well as advaitins, has said in 5/21/3-6  

यन्मद्यगतोभगवान्स्तपतां पतिस्तपन्  आतपेन त्रिलोकीं प्रतपत्यवभासयत्यात्मभासा   स एष उदगयन दक्षिणायन वैषुवत संज्ञाभिर्मान्द्य  शैघ्र्य समानाभिर्गतिभिरारोहण अवरोहण समानस्थानेषु यथासवनं अभिपद्यमानो मकारदिषु राशिषु अहोरात्राणि दीर्घ ह्रस्व समानानि विधत्ते ||3|| 

“The all powerful sun, foremost of all scorchers, who from his central place, warms with his heat and lights up with his rays the three worlds, goes up and down (the zodiac) at the appointed time with the accelerated, retarded and even speeds characteristic  of the different seasons, the Uttarayana ( Winter Solstice)  the Dakshinayana (Summer Solstice) and the Vishuvas (equinoxes) making the days longer, shorter, or equal to the nights, as he transits through Makara and the other zodiacal divisions in succession.”

यदा मेष तुलयोर्वर्तते तदाहोरात्राणि समानानि भवन्ति यदा वृषभादिषु पञ्चसु च राशिषु चरति तदाहान्येव वर्धन्ते ह्रसति च मासि मास्येकैका घटिका रात्रिषु ||4||

“Days and nights are equal during the sun’s transit through Aries (Mesha) and Libra (Tula); when he moves through the five signs, Taurus and the following, the days grow longer, while every month the nights become shorter by one ghatika(twenty-four minutes)”.

यदा वृश्चिकादिषु पञ्चसु वर्तते तदाहोरात्राणि विपर्ययाणि भवन्ति ||5||

यावद् दक्षिनायणमहानि वर्धन्ते यावदुदगयनं रात्रयः ||6||

“When the sun moves through the five signs Scorpio and the rest, the lengths of the day and the night are reversed. From Uttarayana–Winter Solstice—(Makara Rashi)  days go on increasing while the nights go on lengthening but from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana, the process is reversed”. (Translation by K Ragunathan, Vigneshwar Publishing House, Madras/Bangalore).

 2. The Vishnu Purana, the other famous Purana, favourite of Adi Shankara, has repeated something similar in 2/8/28-31 

अयनस्योत्तरस्यादौ मकरं याति भास्करः | ततः कुम्भं च मीनं च राशेः राश्यन्तरं द्विज |28| 
त्रिष्वेतेषु अथ भुक्तेषु ततो वैषुवतीं  गतिम्  | प्रयाति सविता कुर्वन् अहोरात्रं ततः समम् |29| 
ततो रात्रिः क्षयम् याति वर्धते अनुदिनं दिनम् |30|  ततश्च मिथुनस्यान्ते परां काष्ठामुपागतः| राशिं कर्कटम् प्राप्य कुरुते दक्षिणायनम् | 

“In the beginning of Uttarayana(Winter Solstice), the sun enters Makara Rashi(Capricorn) there from going to Kumbha and then Mina. After having passed through these three signs, it just gains vishuvati (equinoctial) speed resulting in the day and night being equal on Mesha. After that, nights start decreasing and the days increasing correspondingly daily. Then when the sun is in the end of Mithuna Rashi, i.e. when it is just at the verge of entering Karkata (Cancer), the day is the longest then as Dakshinayana (Summer Solstice) starts on that date”.

शरद्वसन्तयोर्मध्ये विषुवं तु विभाव्यते|  तुला मेष गते भानौ समरात्रिदिवं  तु तत्  ||67|| 
कर्कटावस्थिते भानौ दक्षिणायनमुच्य्ते | उत्तरायणमप्युक्तं मकरस्थे दिवाकरे || 68||

“The Vishuvas (Vernal and Autumn Equinoxes) take place in the midst of Sharat and Vasanta Ritu. Days and nights are equal when the sun enters  Mesha (Aries) and/or Tula (Libra). When the sun enters Karkata Rashi it is the start of Dakshinayana (Summer Solstice) – the longest day. And when the sun enters Makara, it is the start of Uttarayana (Winter Solstice) — when the day is the shortest.”

तपस्तपस्यौ मधुमाधवौ च शुक्रश्शुचिश्चायनमुत्तरम् स्यात् || 
नभोनभस्यौ च इषस्तथोर्जस् सहस्सह्स्याविति  दक्षिणम्  तत् ||81||

“Tapas, Tapasya, Madhu, Madhava, Shukrah and Shuchih are the six months of Uttarayana; Nabhas, Nabhasyah, Ishah, Urjah, Sahah and Sahasya are the six months of Dakshinayana”!

Nakshatras vis-a-vis Samkrantis

Some scholars correlate Mesha etc. Rashis to Ashvini etc. nakshatras, claiming thereby that the Rashis are so called nirayana, which they call sidereal euphemistically! Let us analyze the truth:

Srimad Bhagavata 5/22/5-7 has said:

अथ स एष आत्मा लोकानां द्यावा पृथिव्योरन्तरेण नभोवलयस्य कालचक्रगतो  द्वादशमासान्  भुङ्क्ते  राशि संज्ञान सम्वत्सरावयवान् मासः पक्षद्वयं दिवा नक्तं चेति सपादार्क्षद्वयमुपदिशन्ति यावता शष्ठमंशं भुञ्जीत स वै ऋतुरित्युपदिश्यते संवत्सरावयवः |5| 

“The sun-god, who is the soul of the worlds, mounted on the wheel of time, which is poised in the upper air, midway between earth and heaven,  passes through the twelve months that make up the year and are known by he names of different zodiacal signs like Mesha, Vrisha etc. The month consists of two fortnights the dark and the bright, according to the lunar reckoning. It is one day and one night (for the manes). And in the course of one month the sun transits the space occupied by two constellations (nakshatras) and a quarter. The period he takes to traverse one sixth of the length of the zodiac is called a season, another division of the year.”

अथ च यावतार्धेन नभोवीथ्यां प्रचरति तं कालमयनमाचक्षते |6| 

“The time the sun takes to traverse one-half of the zodiacal belt is called an ‘ayana’.”

अथ च यावन्नभोमण्डलं सह द्यावापृथिव्योर्मन्डलाभ्यां    कार्त्स्न्येन् स ह् भुञ्जीत तं कालं संवत्सरं परिवत्सरमिदावत्सरम् अनुवत्सरमिति भानोर्मान्द्यशैघ्र्य सम गतिभिः समामनन्ति |7|

“The period that he takes to make a circuit of the entire firmament, between earth and heaven, is called by different names, ‘samvatsara’, ‘parivatsara’, ‘ida-vatsara’, ‘anuvatsara’, and ‘vatsara’, to denote the reckoning of the period in different ways according as it takes into account the acceleration, retardation and even movement of the sun’s transit.”(Translation by K Ragunathan, Vigneshwar Publishing House, Madras/Bangalore)

Here it has been made clear that a solar month comprises two and a quarter nakshatras, two such months make a season and such six seasons make a year named Samvatsara etc. which are the same names of solar years as in the Vedanga Jyotisham and the Mahabharata etc.

Here the lunar as well as the solar months are seasonal, i.e. tropical and it is those very solar months that have been said to contain two and a quarter nakshatra each.

The same thing has been explained in detail  in the Vamana Purana 5/34 (Gita Press edition):

आदित्यंशश्च पुष्यं च आश्लेषा शशिनो गृहं| राशिः कर्कटको नाम पार्श्वे मख विनाशिनः ||

“The last quarter of Punarvasu, entire Pushya and Ashlesha nakshatra are part of Karkata Rashi”. The same Vamana Purana has said in 16/12

ततो दिवाकरो राशिं  संप्रयाति च कर्कटम् | ततो अमराणां रजनी  भवति दक्षिनायणं||

“After that the sun enters Karkata Rashi.  That is the start of Dakshinayana (Summer Solstice) known as the night of gods”.

So here also the nakshatras have been clubbed with tropical months and rashis!

Even in this twenty first century, the Karkata Rashi is said to be formed by the same nakshatras viz. a quarter of Punarvasu, whole Pushya and Ashlesha nakshatra, but then unfortunately, without any rhyme or reason, it is de-linked from Dakshinayana, against the injunctions of all the Puranas and shastras!

Thus when the same Vamana Purana says in 5/40:

उत्तरांशास्त्रयो ऋक्षं श्रवणं मकरो मुने  धनिष्ठार्धं  शनिक्षेत्रं … i.e.

“O Seer, three quarters of Uttarashadha, complete Shravana nakshatra and two quarters of Dhanishtha comprise Makara Rashi”, it means naturally that the Makara Rashi of Vamana Purana is also  nothing but the start of the six months of Uttarayana, i.e. Makar Samkranti has to be the shortest day of the year!

It is not only the Vamana Purana or Bhagavata Purana etc. but almost all the other Puranas like Shiva Maha Purana, Narada Purana, Vishnudharmottara Purana etc. also declare  unequivocally that irrespective of the nakshatra that a particular Rashi may be in, it has to be in alignment with the seasons!  In other words, the Mesha, Vrisha etc. signs as well as the nakshatras that are subsumed in them have to
be so called Sayana (tropical)!

Let us now see the epics: 

Mahabharata—-Bhishma Nirvana tithi,

Mahabharata, Shanti Parva 48/3 (Gita Press edition)

 निवृत्तमात्रे त्वयन उत्तरे वै दिवाकरे|  समावेशयदात्मानमात्मन्येव समाहितः ||
शुक्ल्पक्षस्याष्टम्यां माघमासस्य पार्थिव| प्रजापत्ये च नक्षत्रे मद्यं प्राप्ते दिवाकरे ||

“As soon as the Sun, passing the solstitial point, entered in his northerly course, Bhishma, with concentrated attention, caused his soul (as connected with and independent of the body) to enter his soul (in its independent and absolute state). It was the eighth tithi of bright lunar half of the month of Magha, Moon was in Rohini nakshatra and the time was mid-day”. (K. M. Ganguly tranlslation) 

Then in Anushasana Parva 167/5-7 we read:

उषित्वा शर्वरीः श्रीमान् पन्चाशन्नगरोत्तमे || समयं कौरवाग्र्यस्य सस्मार पुरुषोत्तमः ||
स निर्ययौ गजपुराद्  याजकै परिवारितः | दृष्ट्वा निवृत्तमादित्यं प्रवृत्तं चोत्तरायणम् ||

“After having stayed for fifty nights in Hastinapur and on seeing that Uttarayana had already started, Lord Krishna remembered the time of departure of Bhishma and went out of Hastinapur together with Brahmins etc.”

दिष्ट्या प्राप्तोअसि कौन्तेय सहामात्यो युधिष्ठिर| परिवृत्तो भगवान् सहस्रांशुर् दिवाकरः |26|
अष्टपञ्चाशतं रात्र्यः शयानस्याद्य मे गताः | शरेषु निशिताग्रेषु यथा वर्षशतं तथा |27|
माघोयम्  समनुप्राप्तो मासः सौम्यो युधिष्ठिर | त्रिभागशेषः पक्षोयं शुक्लो भवितुमर्हति |28|

(Bhishma said) O Yudhishthira! The thousand-rayed maker of day, the holy Surya has begun his northward course. I have been lying on my bed here for eight and fifty nights. Stretched on these sharp pointed arrows I have felt this period to be as long as if it was a century. O Yudhishthira, the lunar month of Magha has come. This is, again, the lighted fortnight and a fourth part of it ought by this (according to my calculations) be over.”(K. M. Ganguly translation)

As is common knowledge, Bhishma had a boon that he could shed off his mortal coil only when he desired to do so. He had waited for 58 days on his bed of arrows to do so. Why? Because he did not want to be born again in this world, for which he had to wait for a particular combination of time periods. What are those?

In the Gita, the crest-jewel of the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna has said in 8/24:

  अग्निर्ज्योतिरहः शुक्लः षण्मासा उत्तरायाणम् |  तत्र प्रयाता गच्छन्ति ब्रह्म ब्रह्मविदो जनाः ||  

“Those who have realized the Brahma, when they pass away during the period presided over by agni, day time, the bright lunar half and the six months of Uttarayana, they attain Para Brahma (and do not return to this mundane world again)”.

Uttarayana means when the sun turns North. And this can happen only and only on the shortest day of the year i.e. the Winter Solstice. The six months from that date include the solar as well as lunar six months. They must start after the shortest day of the year.  It must also be the bright half of the lunar month. And Bhishma, after having had fatal injuries, was waiting for 58 days for such an auspicious moment. And that is what he informed Bhagwan Krishna that as it  was Uttarayana already, and also the bright lunar half of Magha, so it was time for him to depart.

Lunar Magha starts with the first new moon after the Winter Solstice:

The Mahabharata war is supposed to have taken place anywhere between 5th century BCE and 5561 BCE. Let us take (quite arbitrarily!) a sort of central year of that span of about 5000 years which has been supposed to be 3139 BCE by some scholars. Chitra/Lahiri Ayanamsha these days is about -24 degrees and it is being used by all the panchangas including the Rashtriya panchanga to decide solar, lunar months and festivals etc. Thus these days “Lahiri sidereal Uttarayana” (Lahiri Winter Solstice!) is taking place on January 14/15  i.e. after 24 days of the actual Uttrayana i.e. the shortest day of the year. In 3139 BCE, the same Lahiri/Chitra Ayanamsha was +47 degrees which means “Lahiri sidereal Uttarayana” at the time of Bhishma’s Nirvana was 48 days before the real Uttarayana, the shortest day of the year. The real Uttarayana in 3139 BCE was on January 14 (TDT) then and it was Pausha Shukla Shashthi on that date. Magha Shukla Ashtami was on February 18, 3139 (TDT) BCE, when Bhishma could have shed off his mortal coil.

On the other hand, (“Lahiri/Chitra) Uttarayana” had started on Nov. 29, 3140 BCE (TDT). It was “Lahiri sidereal” Pausha Krsihna Chaturthi on that date and “Lahiri sidereal” Magha Shukla Ashtami would have been on December 18, 3140 BCE (TDT). That also means “Lahiri Magha Shukla Ashtami” was 26 days before the real Utttarayana i.e. the shortest day of the year and two months before the real Magha Shukla Ashtami, just as these days (Lahiri sidereal) Bhishma Ashtami is being celebrated one month after the actual Bhishma Ashtami! 
So the earlier we get rid of such a so called nirayana—whether Lahiri sidereal or Chitra sidereal etc.—mess, the better!

What does the Surya Siddhanta say about such Samkranits?

Now coming to the siddhantas, the Surya Siddhanta Mana-adhyaya, verses 9-10 say:

भचक्र नाभम् विषुवद् द्वितयम्  सम सूत्रगं | नैरन्तर्यात् तु संक्रान्ते ज्ञेयं विष्णुपदीद्वयं ||  
भानोर्मकर्संक्रान्तेः षण्मासाः उत्तरायणम्, कर्क्यादेस्तथैव  स्यात् षण्मासाः दक्षिणायनम् ||
द्विराशिनाथाः ऋतवस्ततो अपि शिशिरादयः| मेषादौ द्वादशैते मासैस्तैरेव वत्सरः ||  

“From Makar Sankranti start the six months of Uttarayana and from Karkata Sankranti the six months of Dakshinayana.  Each season starting with Shishira (and Makara Sankranti) comprises two rashis (and) six seasons make one year”.

It has said further in Bhugoladhyaya, verses 57 to 62:

मेषादौ तु सदा वृद्धिरुदगुत्तरतो अधिका  | देवांशेच क्षपा हानिर्विपरीतं तथासुरे ||57||
तुलादौ  द्युनिशोर्वामं क्षय वृद्धौ तयोरुभे | देशक्रान्ति वशान्नित्यं  तद्विज्ञानं  पुरोदितम् ||58||
अयनान्ते विलोमेन देवासुरविभागयोः |नाडीषष्ट्या सकृदहर्निशाप्यस्मिन्सकृत्तथा ||61||
तदन्तरेऽपि षष्ठ्यन्ते  क्षय वृद्धौ  अहर्निशोः| परतो विपरीतोयं भगोलः परिवर्त्तते ||62||

“When the sun is in the northern signs Aries (Mesha) etc., the increase of the length of the day and the decrease of the length of the night become more and more until the Sun arrives at the tropic of Cancer (longest day) and then the days become less and less at the regions of the gods, but at those of Asuras the reverse of this takes place.(57)

“But when the sun is in the southern signs of Libra (Tula) etc. the decrease and increase both of day and night are the reverse.  The knowledge of this increase of decrease at every day from the equinoctial shadow of the given place and sun’s declination is described before.” (58) (Bapu Dev Sastri translation)

“There occurs once, at the end of the sun’s half revolution from solstice to solstice—(Uttarayana to Dakshinayana) a day of sixty nadis and a night of the same length mutually opposed to one another, in the two hemispheres of the gods and of the demons. In the intermediate region, the deficiency and excess of day and night are within the limit of sixty nadis beyond this sphere of asterisms (bha) revolves perversely”. 61-62 (Burgess’ translation).

Same is the case with Arybhata (6th century AD), Munjala (9th century AD)  as well as Bhaskara-II (12th century AD) etc.!

Historical Proof

There are historical proofs to show that we had been observing all our festivals on so called Sayana samkrantis instead of Lahiri/Chitra or Raivata-paksha etc. niraayana (actually niraadhaar!)  Samkrantis, as they are nothing but twelve imaginary equal divisions of the ecliptic/zodiac!

This is what Alberuni has said—as late as 11th century AD — on page 356 of his “Alberuni’s India” (translated by Sachau):

“When the sun leaves the point of winter solstice,  he begins to move towards the north pole. Therefore, this part of the year which is nearly one  half, is referred to the north and called Uttarayana, i.e. the period of the sun’s marching through six zodiacal signs beginning  with Capricorn, i.e. having Capricorn as beginning—Makaradi.”

“When the sun leaves the point of the summer solstice he begins to move towards the south pole; therefore  this second half is referred to the south and called dakshinayana, i.e. the period of the sun’s marching through six zodiacal signs beginning with Cancer.  In consequence, this half of the ecliptic is called  Karkadi, i.e. having Cancer as beginning”.

Even in12th century AD, Adi Shankara’s followers followed a (so calledsaayana (tropical) Rashichakra:

Yogavasishtha Maharamayana, Nirvana Prakrana Purvardha 81/119 has said 

सङ्क्रान्तिमुत्तरायणमङ्ग सम्यक्  कालं तथा  विषुवतौ यदि देहवातैः|अन्तर्बहिष्ठमिव वेत्सि यथानुभूतं तच्छोभसे अत्र न पुनः परमभ्युपेतः|

“If you know the correlation between the Samkrantis, Uttarayana, and Vishuvas etc. with the life breath i.e. prana, then you are really blessed with the knowledge that you really deserve”.

A twelfth century commentator, the famous Parmahamsa-Parivrajak-Acharya Ananda Bodha Yati, one of the followers of the Adi Shankara of 8th century AD, has said in his Tatparya Prakasha commentary on the same 

यथा वसन्तग्रीष्मवर्षाशरत्सु क्रमेण शीतस्यौष्ण्येन ग्रासात्सोमस्याग्नि संक्रान्तिः|

शरद्धेमन्त शिशिरेषु क्रमादौष्ण्यस्य शैत्येन ग्रसादग्नेः सोमसंक्रान्तिस्तयोः संधी विषुवतौ सूर्यस्य च मेषादिषु संक्रान्तिस्तथा शरीरेऽपि अपानशैत्यस्य जठराग्निना ग्रासे सोमस्याग्नि संक्रान्तिः  

Here the commentator has beautifully explained as to how the Spring, Summer, rainy and Autumn seasons have the samkrantis of the soma and/or agni. What is noteworthy here is that the Acharya has clearly talked of Mesha Samkranti as the Vishuva, when day is equal to night!  It is for the simple reasons that during his time also there was no Lahiri or Ramana etc. niraadhaar nirayana Rashichakra around! 

In a nutshell

To sum up, thus whether it is the Vedas, the Vedangas, the Smritis, Puranas or the siddhantas—or even as per modern astronomy—there is no Makar Samkranti except for the shortest day of the year (i.e. the Winter Solstice), no Mesha Samkranti except for the Vernal Equinox (when day and night are equal), no Karkata Samkranti except for the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year) and no Tula Samkranti except for the Autumn Equinox (when the day and night are equal).

So it is clear that we must switch over to the correct calendar immediately for celebrating all the festivals like Dipavali, Dashahra, Maha-Shivaratri, Navratras, Rik Upakarma and so on, apart from muhurtas on correct dates. Following are the real dates of the four most important festivals in 2017-18:

1. Pongal/Makar Samkranti Friday, December 22, 2017–10:00 pm IST (and not on January 15, 2018)

2. Meshadi/Mesha Samkranti: Tuesday, March 20, 2018—9:46 pm IST (and not on April 15, 2018)

3.  Karkata Samkranti: Thursday,  June 21, 2018–3:38 pm IST (and not on July 14/15, 2018)

4. TulaSamkranti : Sunday, September 23, 2018—7:25 am IST (and not on October 15, 2018)

5. Pongal/MakarSamkranti: Saturday, December 22, 2018—3:53 am IST  (and not on January 15, 2019)
References / Footnotes

For a list of correct dates of festivals, muhurtas and tithi, nakshatra etc., apart from other important details, please log on to http://reformedsanathancalendar.in/ run by  Shri T. V. Sivaraman.

About Author: Avtar Krishen Kaul

Avtar Krishen Kaul has degress in B.Sc (Maths), M A (English), Shastri all from Kashmir University and has settled in Delhi for the last forty years. He is a student of all the four Vedas, Puranas along with siddhantic as well as modern astronomy in order to put the derailed Vedic calendar back on track. He has developed a computer program called "Vishnu" for generating tithi, nakshatra, yoga, karna and sun, Moon, Rahu etc. from 10000 BCE to 12030 AD.

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