Significance and the story of Rathasaptami
Rathasaptami is an auspicious festival celebrated by Hindus and it is dedicated to Lord Suryanarayana. Saptami Tithi is devoted to Lord Surya. Shukla Paksha Saptami of Magha month is known as Ratha Saptami, Achala Saptami or Magha Saptami. It is believed that Lord Surya started enlightening the world on Ratha Saptami day which was considered as a birthday of God Surya. This is the day that Surya was born to sage Kashyapa and his wife Adithi. Hence it is also known as Surya Jayanti. Ratha Saptami is a highly auspicious day.
It is during this time that Surya/Sun moves from the southeast to the northeast. We worship Lord Suryanarayana for better health and well-being. Rathasapthami is symbolic of the change of season to spring and the start of the harvesting season. For most Indian farmers, it is an auspicious beginning of the New harvest Year. The festival is observed by all Hindus in their houses and in innumerable temples dedicated to Surya, across India.
Surya is considered as an important god because he is the source of life. That’s why he is placed in the center of navagrahas (nine planets). Scientists found out that sun is the center of all nine planets and all of them orbit around the sun. Our sages found out this truth thousands of years ago and mentioned at several places in the Hindu scriptures. In fact, the characteristics of the sun and all the nine planets have been clearly described in the Vedas. One can identify these characteristics in the “navagraha manthra”, and are similar to what the NASA scientist described in their research findings. This is a great testimony to state that many aspects of Hindu faith are scientifically important.
The scriptures proclaim that the word “ratha” is symbolic of the mind. The mind is the chariot. Innumerable thoughts arise in the mind. These thoughts are like different horses, which pull the mind in many different directions. To enable the mind to progress toward the divine, the right set of horses should pull it in the right direction. This, indeed, is the spiritual insight and the deeper meaning of Ratha Saptami.
Ratha Saptami festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the bright half of the lunar month, Magha. The Sun’s northernly movement according to Hindu astrological reckoning is called Makara Sankranthi. The seventh day is the time when the Sun starts gaining momentum in the zodiac after the culmination into Capricorn. This Northernly movement, Uttarayana, is “brahma mārga”–the direction towards the Divine. It is said that we should pull the ratha, which is our “mind”, to follow the brahma marga. It is also the wish of paramātma the Supreme.
Lord Narayana is worshipped as Surya. In this form, the sun as Narayana is “ūpasya” -worshipped, “and “ūpāsana dvara”, meaning the Sun’s outer orb is the entry point to Narayana at the center.
Many people worship Surya because he is called as “Aarogya and Aishwarya Datha” (provider of health and wealth). Surya is worshipped early in the morning while fresh sunrays emerge. It is believed and proven that exposure to fresh sunrays rejuvenate energy, and purify the mind and body. That’s why many Hindus do suryanamaskaras (12 postures of prostrating to Surya) early morning when sunrays are fresh. Scientifically also it is recommended that there are many benefits of getting exposed to early morning sun.
Ratha Saptami is celebrated as the birth of Surya to sage Kashyapa and his wife, Aditi. As per the legend, King Yashovarma of Kamboj empire had no heir to rule his kingdom. Soon, his prayers were answered, and he was blessed with a son. His son was terminally ill. A sage who visited the king advised that his son should perform Ratha Saptami puja to get rid of his illness. After performing puja, his health was restored, and he ruled the kingdom.
It is also said that Sage Bhisma breathed his last breath four days after the Rathasaptahmi day on ekaadashi.
On the day of Ratha Saptami, devotees take a holy bath before sunrise. Ratha Saptami Snan is an important ritual and should be performed at the time of ‘Arunodaya.’ It is believed that taking a bath during this time, will free a person from all illnesses and ailments. In Tamil Nadu, devotees take a sacred bath using Erukku leaves.
Women put rangoli with a representation of Sun God with 7 horses in a chariot in front of their homes. Eurkkam Leaf (Arka Leaf) is another important aspect in this day. Married women will take holy bath by placing 7 erukkam leaves on their body along with a pinch of turmeric and pacharisi (Raw rice) on top of the leaf. One leaf is kept on the head, two on the shoulders, two on the knees and two on the foot while having a bath. Men will take bath with only erukkam leaves and rice without turmeric.
‘Arghyadan’ is offered to Sun God at the time of sunrise. It is performed by offering water from a small Kalash in Namaskar Mudra to Lord Surya. Many devotees perform this ritual 12 times and chant twelve different names of Lord Surya. Devotee lit Diyas and worship Sun God with red flowers, Camphor, and dhoop. It is believed that performing these rituals to Sun God will be bestowed with good health, longevity, and success.
Prayers and Naivedyam
Recite the Aditya Hridayam, Surya Ashtakam, Surya Shathakam, etc. will bring lot of benefits to people in terms health, wealth and success. In Taittareeya Aaranyakam there is Aruna Prashna which is one of the powerful chanting’s associated with praying to Surya. In fact, sage Agasthya advised Lord Rama to worship Surya to win the war against Ravana. Sage Agasthya gives Lord Rama Aditya Hridayam upadesha(teaching) before the war began.
Sesame seeds have the ability to absorb and emit high amounts of “sattva” – virtuous frequencies. This seed is a favorite of sun and therefore sweet made out of sesame seeds are offered as naivedyam. In addition, the lamp is lit using sesame seed oil. The food grain associated with sun god is the wholesome wheat. This pudding is prepared using wheat or pounded rice – avalakki.
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