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As per the custom, people take an early morning shower on this auspicious day by placing Arka (Botanical name: Calotropis procera) leaves on the head and recite the following Surya mantram while having shower:
Sapta Sapta Maha Sapta
Sapta Dweepa Vasundhara
Sapta Arka Parna Madaya
Saptamyam Snanam Achareth
Some staunch devotees take Punya Nadi / Samudra Snanam which means they take a holy dip in the nearby sea or river waters at the time of sunrise. The women folk in the Southern states draw Ratham Muggu in front of the main gate.
Later the devotees perform morning prayers and worship Lord Surya followed by the daily pooja and special naivedyam to the Lord like Pulagam (a healthy combination of lentils and rice with added spices) or Kheer / Payasam. Devotees mostly recite Aditya Hrudyam which is one of the mostly powerful mantra that was recited by Lord Rama at the time of Ramayana War. Lord Suryanarayana who is also known by the name Adi Narayana or the foremost God.
Surya Narayana is depicted as sitting on a ratham or chariot that is driven by seven horses which signify the seven colors that are formed on dispersion of light. These seven horses also signify the 7 days of the week and the names of these 7 horses are Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnik, Jagati, Dhrishtup, Anushtup and Bhakti.
According to certain philosophy, the chariot has only one wheel which represents the passage of time or Kaal or Kaala Chakram. While as per other philosophy the chariot has 12 wheels which represent the 12 zodiac signs and the 12 months of the year.
There are very few Sun temples across the country and people throng the nearby Sun temples on this auspicious day. Sun Temple at Konark is one of the famous Sun temples which is a World Heritage site, however this is more a monument than a temple and there is no priests and no daily prayers in this temple. This World Heritage site is crowded with tourists and devotees as well on this auspicious day. The other Sun temples across the country are Arasavalli Suryanarayana Temple in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, Dakshinarka temple at Gaya in Bihar, Arakonam in Tamil Nadu and few other temples.
This auspicious day which is dedicated to Surya Bhagawan is also known as Surya Jayanti. It is from this day the Northern Hemisphere starts tilting towards the Sun and thus the days gradually become longer and longer.
Though, the festival is not celebrated with much fervor by the common public like other festivals yet this auspicious day is spiritually very important and celebrated by few devotees in some regions only. Sun is the Ultimate Source of Energy for all the living creatures on the Earth and in fact it is the light energy from the sun which is trapped by the chlorophyll in the leaves of green plants and converted into chemical energy. This year (2016), Ratha Saptami falls on Sunday and is considered highly auspicious as Sundays are dear to Surya Bhagawan.
Date of Ratha Saptami: Feb 3, 2017 (Friday).