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Significance of Ratha Saptami

Surya BhagwanRatha Saptami is a Hindu festival that falls on the Seventh day of the bright half of the hindu month Magha. It falls on Febraury 6th 2014, this year. This day is the 7th day in the bright fortnight after the new moon day, in the month of Magha, corresponding to January. Rathasapthami is specially auspicious, if it falls on a Sunday.

Lord Vishnu in his form as Surya is usually worshiped on this day. Usually, Rathasapthami begins in households with a purification bath by holding a few yekka/arka/calotropis procera leaves along with Mantrakshathas (Rice mixed with Turmeric) on one's head while bathing and chanting a verse which is supposed to invoke the benevolence of the Lord in all that one takes up the rest of the year. It also involves doing a puja with the ritual 'Naivedyam', flowers and fruits, Payasam.

There is a popular saying in Indian Vedic culture that ‘jnAtvA karmANi kurvIta’ – meaning  Any deed/kriya is more fruitful when it is better understood. So it is very important to know what we are doing and what’s our goal in doing so. This is a special writeup on the significance of Ratha Saptami and how it is celebrated in Tirumala Hill Shrine.

This day is also known as Surya Jayanthi because it celebrates the power of the Sun God who is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Since ages the Hindus have worshiped Surya/Sun god. Surya is considered to be Lord Vishnu and hence referred to as Suryanarayana or Pratyaksha Daivam. The other names for Surya are Ravi, Aditya, Bhaskar, Arka, Grahapati, Diwakar etc., A day in the week is named as Ravi vaar/Sunday. The Sun is worshipped on this day. The sun is imagined to be a chariot drawn by seven horses, which represent the seven colours of the rainbow. The charioteer, Arun, has his feet deformed. Arun means the dawn. On this day some people go to take bath in the river before dawn carrying a lamp on their head. Then in the courtyard in front of the house the sun is worshipped. A picture of the chariot and the seven horses is drawn on the ground. On the four sides 'rangoli' is made (designs made with powders) and in the centre cow dung is burnt. Then on the stove milk is boiled in earthern vessels while facing the sun. When the milk boils it is believed it reaches the sun.

Story of Aruna, the Charioteer of Lord Surya

Rishi Kasyapa had two wives; Kadru va and Vinata (daughter of Daksha). The first wife became the mother of a thousand snakes (Nagas), while the second wife, Vinata gave birth to two eggs, one of which was very late in opening. Therefore, she hastily broke the egg-shell because of which a handicapped child (without legs) was born. The loving parents named the child Aruna. The second egg opened naturally and Garuda, the bird with large wings, was born.

Aruna, even though disabled, rose to an exalted position as the charioteer of the Sun-god, Surya. Since ancient times, he continues to spread Sun's energy daily around the world, sustaining us with vital nourishment without which life would be impossible. (His brother Garuda, also known as Vainateya, became the Vahana (vehicle) for Lord Vishnu).

Early in the morning every day, all living beings look eagerly to the eastern sky awaiting the arrival of Aruna;  he does not fail them even a single day. He is ever punctual and appears with his master, Lord Sun, brilliantly painting the sky red (Aruna also means red).  Riding majestically across the sky, he guides the seven horses in their majestic travel towards the Western horizon. No wonder that the ancients gratefully named sun-rise after him as Arunodaya, the appearance of Aruna!

Lovingly, his master Surya, the Sun-God, identified himself closely with his devoted charioteer and wanted himself also to be known as Aruna!

Then an offering of 'khir' made of wheat is shown to the Sun. In the 'sup' (basket for sifting corn) twelve heaps of grain are offered to the sun, the number corresponding to the twelve constellations through which the sun goes. Grain is offered to the brahmins. Some people show their respect to the sun by bowing twelve times every day to the sun (Surya Namaskar), repeating every time one of the twelve names of the sun. These twelve names are: Mitra, Ravi, Surya, Ahanu, Khag, Pushan, Hirnyagarbha, Marichi, Aditya, Savita, Arka, and Bhaskar. On this day a new season begins, the sun sitting on his chariot sets out on his journey.

The navagraha/nine planets temples always have the idol of Sun installed in the middle with all the other gods around it. Sun temple at Konark is a famous and ancient temple dedicated to Sun god. One of the beautifully stone-carved temples at Lakkundi, Gadag District of North Karnataka,  built by the Chalukyas in the 10th century, is dedicated to Lord Suryanarayana.

It is a festival in which the Sun god( in the form of Surya Narayana) is worshipped. It is also celebrated as the birthday of Sun, as the season changes from this day. It comes on the seventh day (SAPTHAMI) of the bright half of the eleventh month (MAGHA) of the Hindu calendar. The importance of this Rathasapthami is that, the sun is moving from the Makari rasi (i.e. capricon) to the Kumbha rasi (i.e. Aquarius) which is known as kumbha sankramanam. It is said that on Rathasapthami, a chariot formed by stars can be sighted.There are still festivals that have come down from generations together about worshipping the natural forces and Rathasapthami is one of them.Sun or Surya according to Hindu mythology means “The Supreme Light”. Sun is described having arms and hair of gold and drives through the heaven on a chariot pulled by seven horses which represent the seven colours of the rainbow with charioteer named Aruna. He is known as the visible form of god that we can see everyday. Our epics denote sun as a store house of power and radiance.

He represents courage, will power, strength, fame,hope, gives health and many more. Why? We already know that the source of vitamin D is Sun! Imagine world without sun……………. nah……… there’s no life.  That’s the reason everyone worships Sun.

Worshipping sun god is nothing new, our Puranas have many instances  of it. Lord Sri Rama worshipped sun god before going for the battle against the King of Lanka, Ravana (also known as the last king of Asuras i.e. Rakshasas). King Satrajit also worshipped sun god and got a gem from him called the Samanthakamani, which is cause of prosperity, which later on was given to Lord Krishna along with Satyabhama in marriage. We even have temples of sun god proving it, the famous Konark temple in Orissa, Arasavalli temple in Andhra Pradesh and many more temples.On Rathasapthami milk is boiled and khir is made which is offered to the sun god. Not only this but there are lot of rituals followed on this day.

In important Vaishnavite temples like Tirumala and Srirangam, Rathasapthami figures as one of the important festivals of the year. A one day Brahmotsavam is held and the Utsava Murthy is carried out in a variety of vahanams around the main temple precints during the day.

Rathasapthami also marks the gradual increase in temperature across South India and anticipates the arrival of spring which is later heralded by the festival of Ugadi in the month of 'Chaitra'.

In the Vaishnavite tradition, days in the year marking 'Vaikunta Ekadasi', Rathasapthami', 'Ugadi', 'Vijayadashami', are held in high regard and observed accordingly.

The Indian festivals are a wondrous and joyous series of events. These moments are defined by the changing luminosity of the sun. Rathasapthami is an ancient festival and one of the lesser known. Rathasapthami is the occasion of the sun moves from the southeast to the northeast.

Legend has it that Rathasapthami is the day of commencement of the Vaivasvata manvantara (day of recreation of the universe), the first descendant of Vivaswan, the sun, and that the sun ascended his chariot on this day. As the sun’s heat and luster got diminished, he was turned on a lathe by the celestials and had his intensity of heat and light restored. (also corresponding to the Uttarayana movement of the Sun.) The worship of sun on all mornings of maghamasa is called Nitya Danya Vrata. A handful of rice is set apart daily and the accumulated quantity at the end of vrata is distributed among the poor.

The Sun not only rules the planet, but has been in perfect harmony with all the other members of the planetary system for eons. If only the highest evolved of life forms, is able to live in harmony with himself and be linked by ties of shared togetherness, as do the planets.

“Ratha” means chariot and “Sapthami” means the 7th day, it is the day when the Surya/Sun god is believed to ride on the chariot drawn by 7 horses to gift the beautiful season “Spring” to South India. It is during this time that Surya/Sun moves from the southeast to the northeast. 7 represents the colors of the rainbow or the 7 chakras. The days become warmer and bring relief and cheer to life after the bitter winter months.  The Sun is approximately 149,600,000 kilometers from earth and sunlight takes 8.3 minutes to reach the earth. Life on earth is dependent on the Sun and Sun’s energy is tapped in innumerable way –

Plants: To prepare food

Humans: To generate power, for a dose of Vitamin D, the ultraviolet rays from the Sun has antiseptic properties, which are used to sanitize tools and water

Nature: Convert fossil into fuels and petroleum.

On Rathasapthami day, rangoli/pattern of Surya/Sun riding a chariot is drawn. A special bath is taken with 7 yekka/arka/calotropis procera leaves. One leaf is kept on the head, 2 on the shoulders, 2 on knees and 2 on foot while having bath.

The following mantra on Sun god is chanted while taking the bath.

“Saptha Saptha Maha Saptha|
Saptha Dweepa Vasundara|
Sapth Arka Parna Madaya|
Sapthamyam Snana Machareth||”

By following this simple ritual people believe that the Lord will bless them with success for all their endeavors in the coming year.

On this day Avalakki/Poha/Beaten Rice Payasa/Pudding is prepared and the Payasa is allowed to overflow the pan in which it is being cooked. Perform pooja and offer fruits and payasa to the god.

Argya/oblation of water is offered to Sun God on this day. Special pooja and celebrations are held in all the temples.

Some important Mantrams related to Lord Surya and Ratha Saptami

 

Surya Dhyana Mantram


JapA kusuma-sankASam kASyapEyam maha-dyutim

tamOgnam sarva-pApaghnam pranatOSmi divAkaram

Meaning: “Let us chant the glories of the Sun god, whose beauty rivals that of a flower. I bow to him, the greatly effulgence son of Kashyapa, who is the enemy of darkness and destroyer of all sins.”

 

To Surya the sun deity, for freedom from disease:

 

Aum bhAskarAya vidmahE

divakarAya dhIimahi

tannO sUryah prachOdayaAt    ||


Meaning: “Om. Let us meditate on the shining Sun god who gives light to the whole world. May that Divakara, the radiant lord who is the cause of day, inspire and illumine our mind and understanding.”

 

Om Aswadwajaya Vidhmahe

Pasa Hasthaya Dheemahe

Thanno Surya Prachodayath   ||

 

Meaning: “Om, Let me meditate on the god who has a horse flag, Oh, God who holds the rope, give me higher intellect, and let Sun God illuminate my mind.”

 

Arghya Mantram for Surya

 

Sapta satpa vahaprita, saptaloka pradipana

Saptami sahito deva! Grihanarghyam divakara!

 

Snana Mantram on the day of Ratha Saptami

 

yadA janmakRita pApam mayA janmasu janmasu  |

tanmE rOgamcha SOkamcha mAkarI hantu saptamI |

EtajjanmakRitam pApam yachha janmAntarArjitam |

manOvAkkAyajam yachha gnAtAgnAtEcha yE puna:  ||

 

Legends

 

In the country of Kamboj there was a king named Yashovarma. He was a religious minded ruler, and happiness prevailed in his kingdom. But the king had become old and had no children. He prayed to God to give him a son. Finally God heard his prayer and the king got a son. But the son was very sickly. All remedies were tried but the boy would not be cured.

One day a Muni named Vinit came to the palace. He was a very learned Muni and knew the three times ('trikala jnani'), which means that he knew the past, the present, and the future. So the king asked the Muni when his son would get alright. Muni Vinit remained with his eyes closed for a while. Then he said to the king, 'Your son is sick because in his previous life he was very rich, but never gave any alms and used his wealth for himself only.'

King Yashovarma asked, 'If he was a sinner, how is it that he was born the son of a king?'

Muni Vinit replied, Yes, he was a sinner in his previous life. But once with his eyes he saw the 'puja' (worship) of Rath Saptami. With this he acquired the merit needed to be born of a royal family.

So, will not his sickness disappear by a similar act of merit? King Yashovarma eagerly asked.

Yes, make him observe the vow of Ratha Saptami and his sickness will completely disappear.

Then Muni Vinit gave the king information about Rath Saptami and by the merit of this vow the King's son was liberated from his disease.

 

The Gayatri Mantra


From ancient times men have attributed divinity to the sun. For the Upanayana (thread) Samskaram,  the boy is made to stand facing the sun, and the priest makes the following prayer, Oh Sun, this is your student. Protect him, and give him a long life. After the Thread ceremony every day three times, the Gayatri mantra must be recited. This mantra is given great importance:

God is the mover of this world. The shining brilliance of God is the most exalted and the most difficult to describe. This brilliance is liked by everybody. We meditate upon such brilliance. We bring it to our mind. May this God, who is the sun, inspire our intellect and our devotional meditation and may the recitation of this gayatri illumine our intellect.


 

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