The Makar Sankranti festival is also known and referred to as the harvest festival because this is the time when harvesting is complete and there are big celebrations.
So Makar Sankranti is a festival for harvest. But there are celestial and spiritual connotations to it as well. It arose from certain yogic practices that common people took up in ways that were relevant to them. This time is most important for yogis to make a new, fresh effort in their spiritual process. Accordingly, people who have family also make a fresh attempt in whatever they do in their lives.
Many aspects of the yogic system were evolved and developed based on the connection between the celestial system and the human system, in order to make use of the changes in position that happen in an incremental way, from moment to moment, minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.
For example, the number 108 is significant in many ways in the construction of the human system and the larger solar system. Traditionally, if you wear a mala, it has 108 beads. If you chant a mantra or go around an energy space, it is 108 times. This is because there are 108 things that one needs to do if one wants to have a complete mastery over the human mechanism. In the human body, there are 114 chakras or points where the nadis or energy channels meet in the body. Of these 114, 2 are outside the physiological framework. Of the 112 chakras that are within the physiological framework, actual work needs to be done on 108. If you manage to activate these 108, the remaining 4 will naturally open up.
This is also beautifully manifested in the planetary system in which we live. The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance between Sun and Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The distance between Moon and Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon. And there are 108 padas (steps) in one lunar year. Planet Earth takes 13 ½ lunar revolutions or one solar year to complete its orbit around the Sun. In this orbit it arranges itself in 27 nakshatras or 108 padas, almost like the beads of a mala. Makar Sankranti marks the completion of and the beginning of a new cycle.
So Makar Sankranti is a festival to recognize the movement, movement being celebration, movement being life, movement being the process of life and the beginning and the end of life. At the same time, the word ‘shankara’ is used to remind you that the one behind this, Shiva, is a still one; stillness is the basis of movement. Though all the other planets are moving, the most important one is not moving. If the sun also takes a walk, then we are in trouble. He hangs there not moving. That is why everybody else’s movement is okay. But his stillness is relative because the whole solar system may be moving; the whole galaxy may be moving. So beyond that, the space which holds all this is absolute stillness.