a). What is the significance of Makara Jyothi in Shabari Malai ?
Traditionally, during Uttarayana punya kala, piligrims gather to see the Light - Makara Jyothi in Shabari Malai. The light symbolizes "The Path of Light - Uttarayana Marga" as described in Bhagavadgita ( see the article below). There are two paths for human beings - Path of Light - Devayana/Uttarayana and path of darkness ( pitrayana). Makara jyothi is a call for all of us to follow the path of light - Spiritual path. For the details of this path see the message of Makara Sankaranthi for 2010 given below.
Spiritual Meaning of Myths associated with Makara Sankranthi
1). According to the Puranas, on this day Surya(Sun) visits the house of his son Shani(Saturn), who is the lord of the Makar rashi(Zodiac Capricorn). Though the father and son duo did not get along well, the Surya made it a point to meet his son on this day. He, in fact, comes to his son’s house, for a month. This day thus symbolizes the importance of the special relationship between father and son.
Spiritual Meaning : Sun stands for Karma. Sun is Adhidevata for Karma while Shani is the adhidevata for karma phala. Makara Sankranthi is the day we have think of the path which we are going to chose - Path of light (Nishkama karma) represented by Sun or path of darkness (kamya karma) represented by Shani.
2). It was on this day when Lord Vishnu ended the ever increasing terror of the Asuras(Demons) by finishing them off and burying their heads under the Mandara Parvata.
Spiritual Significance : This occasion also represents the end of ‘negativities’ and beginning of an era of righteous living leading to Path of Light (Uttarayana).
3). Maharaja Bhagiratha, performed great penance to bring Ganga down to the earth for the redemption of 60,000 sons of Maharaj Sagar, who were burnt to ashes at the Kapil Muni Ashram, near the present day Ganga Sagar. It was on this day that Bhagirath finally did tarpan[clarification needed] with the Ganges water for his unfortunate ancestors and thereby liberated them from the curse. After visiting the Pataala(underworld) for the redemption of the curse of Bhagirath’s ancestors the Ganges finally merged into the sea. A very big Ganga Sagar Mela is organized every year on this day at the confluence of River Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Thousands of Hindus take a dip in the water and perform tarpan for their ancestors.
Spiritual Significance : Effort of Bhagiratha represents the spiritual struggle. The Ganga represents Jnana gana. Nahi jnanena sadrasham pavitramiha udyate. Generations of ancestors will get liberated when a person attains Enlightenment through intense effort - spiritual sadhana.
4).A well-known reference of this day came when the great grand-sire of Mahabharata fame, Bhishma, declared his intent to leave his mortal coil on this day. He had the boon of Ichha-Mrityu(death at his will) from his father, so he kept lying on the bed of arrows till this day and then left his mortal coil on Makar Sankranti day. It is believed that the person, who dies during the period of Uttarayana, becomes free from transmigration(rebirth). So this day was seen as a definite auspicious day to start a journey or endeavours to the higher realms beyond.
Spiritual Significance : Death should happen when we have taken the path of Uttarayana - path of Liberation. Not before.! That will only free a soul. The uttarayana referred here is inner spiritual evolution - path of light.
Sankranthi Meaning written in 2010.
Wish you all very Happy Makara Sankranti. Makara Sankranti is a festival for our commitment to Moksha - liberation through the performance of Selfless Service - Nishkama karma.
What is cosmic significance of festival of Makara Sankranti ?
Makara sankranti is the day sun starts northward movement. It is called Uttarayana. Our ancestors considered 6 months of Uttarayana as day for devas – cosmic beings and 6 months of dakshinayana as night for cosmic beings.
What is Spiritual significance of Makara Sankranti.
Makara Sankranti is a festival which reminds us the purpose of human life and the paths available for human beings. Dharma, Artha, kama and moksha are called purusharthas – basic motivation for life. Of these, moksha or liberation is the highest purushartha. Shri Krishna in Bhagavadita 8.24 and 8.25 speaks of two paths - Uttarayana marga and dakshinayana marga. These are also called path of Gods and path of ancestors. The other names for these two paths are archiradi marga ( path of light) and dhumradi marga ( path of darkness).
Uttarayana Marga specifies the path taken by departed souls after death. Those souls who have lived a path of selfless service – nishkama karma take the path of Uttaradi Marga for liberation. While those people who are engaged in kamya karma – action with desires take the path of dakshinayana marga – path of return/path of bondage.
Makara Sankranti festival reminds us the highest goal of Moksha and paths for the same as told by Shri Krishna in Bhagavadgita.
What is the significance of customs followed in celebration of Makara Sankranti ?
Exchange of sesame seeds (Til) and jaggery - Sesame (til) symbolizes the karma. Black Sesame seed burnt in front of Shaneshwara temple symbolizing burning of negative karma. On the eve of Makara sankranti white sesame seed is distributed along with jiggery symbolizing performance of good karma in the form of yajna. This is symbolic representation of working towards nishkama karma – selfless service for purifying oneself and working towards liberation/mukti.
Exchange of sugar dolls – Sugar dolls represent the souls purified through nishkama karma. They have become sweet and ready to melt into ocean of divine Bliss – Ananda and experience Brahmananda – eternal bliss of liberation. These souls are ready to travel on the path of Uttarayana/path of light/path of Gods.
Divine Light in temples - In some temples devotees worship the divine light in the form of flame. This symbolizes the path of light to be taken by devotees for liberation. This is called archiradi marga/uttarayana marga.
What is path of light and path of darkness ?
There are two paths for the soul after death [1,2]
a). Path of light ( Archiradi marga).
b). Path of darkness ( Dhumradi marga).
Soul which takes the path of light attains immortality. Such a soul does not take rebirth. Souls which take the path of darkness are reborn into phenomenal existence.
What is path of Gods and path of Ancestors ?
Vedic literature often speaks of two paths for the departed soul.
a). Path of Gods (devayana)
b). Path of ancestors (pitruyana)
The word deva comes from the root div which means light. Devayana refers to path of light. Pitruyana refers to the path of ancestors. This is a representation of all the mortal souls and hence represents the path of darkness.
What is the meaning of path of light and path of darkness ?
Light stands for knowledge. Light stands for wisdom. One who has the wisdom of the Inner Self (Atma) is on the path of Light. One who has ignorance of the Inner Self (Atma) is on the path of darkness. Thus the path of light and path of darkness stand for path of wisdom (jnana) and path of ignorance ( ajnana).
What happens to souls on the path of darkness ?
The souls who are on the path of darkness are bound by law of karma. Based on their karmic impressions they attain heaven ( swarga ). After the enjoying the fruits of of good karma they are reborn on the earth . If the soul has done good karma in previous birth, it takes birth (uccha yonis) in higher vehicles like brahmana, kshatriya etc. Otherwise, soul gets reborn in lower vehicles (neecha yonis) like animals. Chandala etc. What happens to souls who donot follow the path of light/darkness ?
The souls who donot follow the path of light or path of darkness fall into third category. They are subjected to a life of transmigratory existence of repeated births and deaths and experience life as mixture of joys and sorrows .
What happens to souls who are enlightened ?
Souls who are enlightened are called jivanmuktas. They become one with Brahman. Like a salt doll which went to measure depth of the sea, disappears, individual soul merges into universal consciousness. For such a soul, there is no transmigration, no devayana and no pitruyana. After death, such a person is called videha mukta. Pranas of such a soul donot depart from the body.
Path of Light
agnir jyotir ahah suklah san masa uttarayanam tatra prayata gacchanti brahma brahma-vido janah ( Bhagavadgita 8.24)Those who know the Supreme Brahman attain that Supreme by passing away from the world during the influence of the fiery god, in the light, at an auspicious moment of the day, during the fortnight of the waxing moon, or during the six months when the sun travels in the north.
 Path of Darkness
dhumo ratris tatha krsnah san-masa daksinayanam tatra candramasam jyotirThe mystic who passes away from this world during the smoke, the night, the fortnight of the waning moon, or the six months when the sun passes to the south reaches the moon planet but again comes back.
yogi prapya nivartate (Bhagavadgita 8.25)
yogi prapya nivartate (Bhagavadgita 8.25)
Te tam bhuktva svarga-lokam visalam kshine punye,martya-lokam visanti evam trayi-dharmam anupassana gatagatam kama kama labhate – Bhagavadgita 9.21
When they have thus enjoyed vast heavenly sense pleasure and the results of their pious activities are exhausted, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus those who seek sense enjoyment by adhering to the principles of the three Vedas achieve only repeated birth and death.
Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.7,5.10.8