It falls on 14th January of English calender year. The Sun make his outset towards north pole and this the movement of the Sun from this day is called "Uttarayana Gati". Makara Sankranti is the first day of the month of Magha. 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.
The equivalent festival as Makar Sankranti celebrated all over South-India is "Pongal". It is an occasion of great festivities, making delicacies, new clothes and adorning the houses with mural and Rangoli, which continues for three days. In other parts of the country, this national festival is also observed with the same enthusiasm. People abstain from doing their regular chores and spent time in musical soirees with their near and dear ones.
The Sun moves towards the equator from this particular day and it is a popular Hindu belief that persons who die within this month achieve "Swarga" i.e they go to heaven. In Orissa, people offer the newly harvested rice and sugarcane mixed with jaggery, coconut, banana, molasses, chenna (cheese) and milk called "Makara Chaula" to the presiding deity, the Sun-God & lit solemn pyre for satisfying the evil elements plaguing household. The withdrawing winter entails change in food habits & intake of nourishing and rich food. Therefore this festival also holds immense scientific significance. 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. 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. 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'.
This festival is observed largely in Orissa by both Arya and Anarya i.e, by general and Adivasi caste. Since this occasion falls just after the harvesting of the paddy crops is over in Orissa. Particularly, the festival is observed largely among all with joy and ceremony. "Makar Bhoga" is made of new harvested rice, milk, sugar, coconut and cheese etc. Mela is observed at Dhabaleswar in Cuttack, Hatakeshwar at Atri in Puri, Makar Muni temple in Balasore and near various deities in each district of Orissa.