“arka mandala madhyastham sūryakōti samaprabham ।
brahmādi sēvya pādābjam naumi brahma ramā sakham” ॥
“I salute to Lord Narayana who resides in the center of sun orb, who is the equivalent the brilliance of of thousands times this sun, whose lotus feet are worshipped by Brahma.”
What is the purpose of observing Ratha Saptami?
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.
How to we observe Ratha Saptami?
- Early morning snānam (bath)
- Worship and offering
- Experience the divine presence by going to the the temple. Witness pulling of a chariot, if there is one.
“ārunōdaya vēla thasyā snānam maha phalam” - Vishnu smriti
The month of Magha is precious for early morning bath and highly rewarding. It is believed that all bad deeds will be washed off. Using the leaves of the “arka” plant and doing snāna on ratha saptami, wards off sins done in the previous 7 births and are pardoned by the grace of Surya Narayana. When taking bath in the flowing waters, it is advised to do so in the early morning hours, before anyone else starts using the stream. It is a practice to use sesame oil and light a lamp made in clay. While keeping a container on top with the “arka” leaf on the head, recite the ṣnana ṃantra given below and pray to Surya Narayana. The light is then set afloat in water.
The light of the lamp represents the divine who is splendorous and has the brilliance of thousands of suns. The head - śiras also called sahasrār – is the culmination point, which connect with the supreme. The lamp is like śatāri– the lord’s feet which bless us. Keeping this lamp on the head connects us with the divine. It is said that arka leaf has the effect of expanding the nerve centers, enabling us to perceive and receive divine ordinance.
“yada janma krutam pāpam mayā janmasu janmasu।
tanmēy rōgam ca śōkam ca mākarihantu saptami।|”
“yētatjjanmakrutam pāpam yacca janmāntarārjitam।
manōvākkāyajam yacca jnātājnātēy ca yē punah॥”
“iti sapta vidham pāpam snānmēy sapta saptikēy।
sapta vyādhi samāyuktam hara mākari saptami॥”
“May the entirety of my sins accumulated in my present and previous births, on account of conscious and unconscious acts or those perpetrated by my vocal or mental roots, be dissolved on this makhara saptami and may this sacred snānam with my earnest and heartfelt supplications and obeisance to you, Surya Dēva!, in the form of seven kinds of sins and seven types of diseases be destroyed forever!”
“sapta satpēvāhaprīta, saptalōka pradipan |
saptami sahitō dēva! grihāNarghyam divākara ||”
“May you, Divākara!, who is fond of the number seven, riding on the chariot drawn by seven horses with seven names, bestow splendor to seven worlds, O Dēva! May I have the privilege of offering ‘arghya’ on this saptami tithi – seventh day - to mark my reverence!”
What is offered for worship?
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
“The sun - Surya- is the visible presence, the vision of the divine, lord of excellence and wisdom, and the cosmic symbol of the Supreme. He is the divine light and presence that fills all the worlds” – RgVeda. As we know, physically there is no other brilliance equivalent to Sun. He is also the source of inner enlightenment as the famous gāyatri mantra suggests. He is the renewal of life on earth.
The Ratha Sapthami worship procedure is designed to imbue us with gnaana (knowledge of the Divine) and launch us towards the divine.
ṣurya ḍhyāna ṃantram
“japā kusuma-sankāṣam kāṣyapēyam mahā-dyutim |
tamōgnam sarva-pāpaghnam pranatōṣmi divākaram ||”
“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 Kaśyapa, who is the enemy of darkness and destroyer of all sins”.
A common hymn that are used to worship the sun is the āditya hridhayam (In the rāṃayana yuddha kānda, Sage Agastya advises SriRama to recite āditya hridhayam before the battle). Additionally, there are the twelve names of āditya that correspond to the twelve months and twelve zodiac signs that he is seen as passing through. Chanting these verses is supposed to invoke the benevolence of the Lord in all actions one does for the rest of the year
The Sun God is also acknowledged as one of the eight forms of Lord Narāyana (astamurti). In the first chapter, āranyaka (aruna praśnam) of the yajurvēda the following seven suns are mentioned: ārōga, brāja, pathara, patanga, svarṇara, jyōtisīmān, vibhāsa. These seven suns are the emergent phenomenon of kaṣyapa, who is the eighth sun and never seen. 'kaṣyapō'śṭamah; sa mahā-mērum na jahāti ' - He never leaves the mahaa-meru mountain and is invisible. The sun is imagined to be travelling in a chariot drawn by seven horses. The number seven is significant with both the Sun in the form of seven horses and His chariot and the above seven Suns.
These seven horses represented are:
- The vital airs that dwell in the face
- The five senses of perception, plus the mind and the intellect.
- The seven points of entry to the body are on -- the two eyes, the two ears, the two nostrils and the mouth -- are the holes. These allow the seven adhyātma-prānās to nourish the soul. This pertains to the celestial plane.
- The other five fundamental elements -- earth, water, fire, air and space -- together with the two principles called mahat and ahamkāra, are the seven-adhibhautika prānās, which constitute the vital airs belonging to the physical plane.
- The seven Chandas or metre used in composition of hymns, including Vedas, as Gayatri, Brhati, Usnika, Jagati, Tristup, Anustup and Pankti.
- The seven days of a week starting with Sunday, the day of Sun god Surya