Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ratha Saptami

Ratha Saptami or Rathasapthami (Sanskrit: रथसप्तमी or Magha Saptami) is a Hindu festival that falls on the seventh day (Saptami) in the bright half (Shukla Paksha) of the Hindu month Maagha. It marks the seventh day following the Sun’s northerly movement (Uttarayana) of vernal equinox starting from Capricorn (Makara). It is symbolically represented in the form of the Sun God Surya turning his Ratha (Chariot) drawn by seven horses (representing seven colours) towards the northern hemisphere, in a north-easterly direction. It also marks the birth of Surya and hence celebrated as Surya Jayanti (the Sun-god’s birthday).

Ratha Saptami 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 Year. The festival is observed by all Hindus in their houses and in innumerable temples dedicated to Surya, across India.
Sun worship is deep rooted in the Vedas of the Hindu religion and its antiquity also relates to several mythologies of the world such as that of China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Gayatri Mantra jap – the sacred Vedic chants to Savitr (Sun god) – is recited by the Hindus every day with great reverence. As the puranic Hinduism evolved around the early Christian era, the worship of Sun, linked to the equinoxes, was established.

In the Rig Veda Mandala 10/Hymn 85, the sun god's bride seated on a chariot pulled by two steeds is mentioned. This symbolism is therefore common to both Norse mythology and Vedic history.
The relevant verses (translated from Sanskrit by Ralph Griffith) are as follows:
10. Her spirit was the bridal car; the covering thereof was heaven: Bright were both Steeds that drew it when Surya approached her husband's, home.
11. Thy Steeds were steady, kept in place by holy verse and Sama-hymn: All cars were thy two chariot wheels: thy path was tremulous in the sky,
12. Clean, as thou wentest, were thy wheels wind, was the axle fastened there. Surya, proceeding to his Lord, mounted a spirit-fashionied car.

Ratha Saptami marks the seventh day following the Sun’s northerly movement (Uttarayana) of vernal equinox starting from Capricorn (Makara). It is symbolically represented in the form of the Sun God Surya turning his Ratha (Chariot) drawn by seven horses, with Aruna as the charioteer, towards the northern hemisphere, in a north-easterly direction. The symbolic significance of the ratha and the seven horses reigned to it is that it represents the seven colours of the rainbow. The seven horses are also said to represent the seven days of a week starting with Sunday, the day of Sun god Surya. The chariot has 12 wheels, which represents the 12 signs (each of 30 degrees) of the Zodiac (360 degrees) and constituting a full year, named Samvatsara. The Sun’s own house is Leo (Simha) and he moves from one house to the next every month and the total cycle takes 365 days to complete. The Ratha Saptami festival seeks the benevolent cosmic spread of energy and light from the Sun God.

Ratha Saptami also marks the gradual increase in temperature across South India and awaits the arrival of spring, which is later heralded by the festival of Ugadi or the Hindu lunar New Year day in the month of Chaitra.
Ratha Saptami also marks the birth of Surya to sage Kashyapa and his wife Aditi and hence celebrated as Surya Jayanti (the Sun-god’s birthday). A legend is narrated by the Kamboj empire’s King Yashovarma, a noble king who had no heir to rule his kingdom. On his special prayers to God, he was blessed with a son. The king’s vows did not end with this, as his son was terminally ill. A saint who visited the king advised that his son should perform the Ratha Saptami pooja (worship) with reverence to rid of his past sins. Once the King’s son performed this, his health was restored and he ruled his kingdom well.It is also said that sage Bhisma breathed his last breath fourth day after the Rathasaptahmi day on ekaadashi.

God Vishnu in his form as Surya (the Sun-God) is usually worshipped on this day. Usually, Rathasapthami begins in households with a purification bath (bathing is also done in a river or sea) by holding several Ekka (Calotropis Gigantea) leaves on their head while bathing and chanting a verse which is supposed to invoke the benevolence of the Lord in all that one indulges in during the rest of the year. Argyam or (Tharpanam) (water held in the palms) is offered to the Sun God on this day while chanting hymns are performed to the Sun God. It also involves doing a puja with the ritual Naivedhya (food offering to God), and offering of flowers and fruits. Important prayers offered to the Sun god on this occasion are the AdityahridayamGayathriSuryashtakamSurya Sahasram namam. The preferred time for the pooja is within one hour after sunrise. In places like Mysore andMelkote, ceremonial processions carry the Surya Mandala - the icon of Surya.

Ekka leaves (in Kannada), are also known as Arka (in Sanskrit, meaning a ray or flash of lightning) leaves, Jilledu in Telugu, Erukku in Tamil and Calotropis Gigantea (bowstring hemp) in English. Arka is also a synonym for Surya or Sun. Its significance to Sun God could be compared to the significance of Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) leaves to Vishnu. Arka leaves are also used for worship of god Ganesha known by the name Arka Ganesha and also for Hanuman worship. Its stems, called samidha (sacrificial offerings of wood) are used for the Yagna ritual as a sacrificial offering to a ritual fire. Its shape is said to represent the shoulders and chariot of Sun God. Its use during the ritualistic ceremonious bath involves placement of seven leaves - one on the head, two on the shoulders, two on the knees and two on the feet.On this day, in South IndiaRangoli is drawn with coloured rice powder depicting a chariot and seven horses as symbolic of the Ratha Saptami. Cowdung cake is also burnt at the centre of this depiction and milk boiled on the fire is offered to the Sun God. In some of the important Vaishnavite temples such as the TirumalaSrirangamSrirangapattana and Melukote, Ratha Saptami is one of the important festivals of the year.

Ratha Saptami Kolam Designs – Pictures of Ratha Kolam or Chariot Rangoli

A single-wheeled chariot in red and white which represents Lord Surya’s chariot is drawn on the Ratha Saptami day. The Rath or Ratha Saptami Kolam is drawn in front of the Puja happening space. Usually, the puja is conducted near the chariot Kolam. Some people prefer to draw a small Rath Kolam on a wooden piece and place it outdoors and perform the pooja. Here are examples of a few Ratha Saptami Kolams. These are only examples to give an idea.

Ratha Saptami Pooja, or Rath Saptami, is observed on the seventh day during Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon) in Magha Month in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In Tamil Nadu, it falls on the Thai or Masi month. Rath Saptami, also known as Surya Jayanti and Surya Saptami, is dedicated to Lord Surya. Here is a brief description on how to perform or observed Ratha Saptami.

Requirements for Rath Saptami Puja
  • Image or Painting or Idol of Lord Surya
  • Easily available fragrant flowers and leaves that are usually used for Puja
  • Uncooked Rice
  • Green Bananas
  • Bananas and other local fruits
  • Sesame seeds
  • Coconut
  • Betel leaves
  • Betel nuts
  • Jaggery (Sugar)
  • Turmeric powder
The house is cleaned and festoons of mango leaves are installed in all the important places on the evening of the previous day of the Puja or early morning ofthe Puja day.

Ritual Bathing of Ratha Saptami with Erukku leaves
Washing hair on the day with leaves of Giant milkweed (Erukku Plant) on head is done by many people. There is a belief that Erukku plant has therapeutic and curative properties.

In some regions, people place some uncooked rice on stacked Erukku leaves and take bath. Women add a little turmeric powder to the uncooked rice.

Seven Erukku leaves are stacked together and placed on the head.
Earlier, this ritual bath used to be taken in a holy river. Nowadays, it is done at home.
Oil is not applied on the hair on the day.

Ratha Sapthami Kolam
After body purification, the Ratha Saptami kolam is drawn. Lord Surya in a chariot or simple picture of Surya is the preferred kolam.
Prayers and Mantras that are chanted on Ratha Saptami
  • Surya Sahasranama
  • Aditya Hridayam
  • Gayatri Mantra
  • And other prayers dedicated to Surya like the Surya Ashtakam.
The Rath Saptami Puja
  • The puja starts with a simple prayer to Lord Ganesha by lighting the lamp.
  • Some people first take the blessings of the family deity; followed by a prayer to Ganesha.
  • Some flowers and turmeric mixed with uncooked rice is placed near the deity and Ganesha.
  • The Surya Puja commences by first anointing the chariot (Ratha) of Surya with turmeric and kumkuma. (This can be done on the idol or image of Surya or on a Ratha kolam drawn on a wood piece.)
  • Uncooked rice, jaggery (sugar), lentils, flowers, turmeric mixed with uncooked rice is kept on the Ratha (chariot).
  • The puja to Surya is performed by offering betel leaves, betel nuts, coconut and yellow bananas, fruits and milk. (For a simple puja you can offer flowers and chant Gayatri mantra.)
  • Perform Arati in the normal way you do.
  • You can now meditate or chant Aditya Hridayam or any shloka dedicated to Surya that you know.
Some people opt for an elaborate Suryanarayana Pooja and this requires the help of elders or a priest.
Fasting On Ratha Saptami
  • Some people opt for a complete fast and others opt for a fast from sunrise to sunset on the day.
Food Prepared on Rath Saptami
  • Sweet pongal and Vadai are offered to Surya by some people during puja. It is then distributed as Prasadam.
Various types of alms giving and daanam are performed by some communities on the day. There is a popular belief that donating things during this period will help in attaining moksha.

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