The orbit of the Earth round the Sun is known as Kranti Brutta (Circle of Movement). It takes full one year for the Earth to take the orbital move. The orbit is divided into-twelve parts known as ‘Rashi’ and accordingly the year has twelve months. The day the Earth starts moving from one ‘Rashi’ to another is called Sankranti and is counted as the first day of the month. Makara Sankranti is the first day of the month of Magha. According to the Christian calendar it generally falls on 13th or 14th of January. It is the day on which the Sun enters the sign of Makara Capricorn) which is the beginning of Uttaravana or the Sun’s northern course.
Makara Sankranti as a festival is modestly celebrated in the all other parts of Orissa excepting the districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundargarh, where it is observed as the most important festival of the year. Almost in every Hindu household ‘Makara Chaula’, a special variety of Bhog prepared with raw-rice, molasses, coconut, chhena (cheese), honey and milk etc. is offered to the Sun-God and then taken by all. People in general have early purificatory bath and visit temples. According to the Sun’s movement, the days from this day onwards become lengthy and warmer and so the Sun-God is worshipped as a great benefactor.
In the districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundargarh where the tribal population is more than forty per cent, the festival is celebrated with great joy and merriment. Though this is not a festival of the tribal people, but because of their acculturisation with the Hindus for centuries they have been celebrating this festival with great enthusiasm. Moreover, the time of the festival is best suited for them as all agricultural operations are over by that time and each family possess something after the harvest.
Preparation for the festival starts much earlier. All the houses are cleaned and neatly plastered. They are painted with three colours viz. White, red and black. New clothes are worn by young and the old alike. Sweet cakes and a meal with meat-curry is a must in every household. Liquor is freely consumed by men and women They sing and dance and enjoy life for about a week.
Before the day dawns all the, people take their purificatory bath in the river or tank and wear new garments. The day is spent with feasting and merry-making. In some places village-style sports are also organised and there are ram-fighting, cock-fighting and archery competitions.
Young girls of certain communities mostly Kudumi, Bastiti, Rajual etc. worship ‘Tushu’, a female deity and immerse it in the river or tank singing songs of a special variety.
In the temple of Lord Jagannath this festival is observed as ‘Uttarayana Yatra’.
In some places big fairs are also held on this occasion and the biggest of its kind is held at Jagatsinghpur of the Cuttack district.