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Uttarāyaṇa (उत्तरायण, উত্তরায়ণ, ઉત્તરાયણ), or Uttarayana, is the six-month period between Winter solstice (around December 22) and Summer solstice (around June 21), when the sun apparently travels towards the north on the celestial sphere.  But it is common to erroneously refer it to as the period between the Makar Sankranti (which currently occurs around January 14) and Karka Sankranti (which currently occurs around July 18). The name Uttarayana comes from joining two different Sanskrit words "Uttara" (North) and "ayana" (movement towards). The period from June 21 to December 22 is known is Dakshināyana (दक्षिणायण).
This festival is currently celebrated on 14 or 15 January but due to axial precession of the earth it will continue to shift away from the actual season. The season occurs based on tropical sun (without ayanamsha). The earth revolves around sun with a tilt of 23.45 degrees. When the tilt is facing the sun we get summer and when the tilt is away from the sun we get winter. That is the reason when there is summer north of the equator, it will be winter south of the equator. Because of this tilt it appears that the sun travels north and south of the equator. This motion of the sun going from south to north is called Uttarayana – the sun is moving towards north and when it reaches north it starts moving south and it is called Dakshinayana – the sun is moving towards south. This causes seasons which are dependent on equinoxes and solstices.
There is a common misconception that Makara Sankranti is the Uttarayana. This is because at one point in time Sayana and Nirayana zodiac were the same. Every year equinoxes slide by 50 seconds due to precession of equinoxes, giving birth to Ayanamsha and causing Makar Sankranti to slide further. As a result if you think Makar Sankranti is Uttarayana then as it is sliding, it will come in June after 9000 years. However Makar Sankranti still holds importance in Hindu rituals. All Drika Panchanga makers like mypanchang.com, datepanchang, janmabhumi panchang, rashtriya panchang  and Vishuddha Siddhanta Panjika use the position of the tropical sun to determine Uttarayana and Dakshinayana.
Also when Uttarayana starts, it is a start of winter. When equinox slides it will increase ayanamsha and Makar Sankranti will also slide. In 1000 AD, Makar Sankranti was on Dec 31 and now it falls on January 14; after 9000 years when Makara Sankranti will be in June. It would seem absurd to have Uttarayana in June when sun is about to begin its ascent upwards —Dakshinayana. This misconception continues as there is not much difference between actual Uttarayana date of Dec 21 and January 14. However, the difference will be significant as equinoxes slide further.
Uttarayana is referred to as the day of new good healthy wealthy beginning.
According to Kauravas and Pandavas, in Mahabharata on this day Bheeshma Pitamaha, chose to leave for his heavenly abode. As per a boon granted to Devavratha (Bheeshma), he could choose his time of death and he chose this day, when the sun starts on its course towards the northern hemisphere.
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