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Ratha Sapthami is one of the important Hindu festivals. The day is considered very auspicious and is dedicated to Surya Deva (i.e.Sun God). Ratha Saptami is celebrated on Magha Suddha Saptami i.e. the 7th day of the brighter fortnight of the moon in the auspicious Hindu month of Maagha. It usually corresponds with February. Basant Panchami (aka Siri Panchami) is followed by Ratha Saptami.
Ratha Saptami is of great importance as Surya Deva (Sun God) is considered as the Pratyaksha Daivam i.e.the Visible God.
Devotees 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 i.e. taking a holy dip in the nearby sea or river waters at the time of sunrise. Women folk in the Southern states draw Ratham Muggu i.e. rangoli in front of the main gate.
After nadi snanam, devotees perform morning prayers and worship Lord Surya followed by their daily pooja. Special naivedyam (i.e.Pulagam) is prepared in a special way in the backyard of the house. This rice item is a healthy combination of lentils and rice with added spices) which is offered to Surya Bhagawan as naivedyam. Some devotees prepare Kheer / Payasam Devotees mostly recite Aditya Hrudayam which is one of the most powerful mantras that was recited by Lord Rama at the time of Ramayana War. Reciting Aditya Hrudyam is beneficial for good health. Lord Suryanarayana who is also known by the name Adi Narayana i.e. 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 by 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.
The chariot is driven by a charioteer named Arun who is orangish in color. He is believed to be born with deformity without legs. Aruna is the elder son of Vinata and Sage Kashyapa and the elder brother of Garuda - the Celestial Eagle.
According to Hinduism, early in the morning Aruna appears first before Sun rises in the East and in the evening Aruna sets in the West only after the Sun sets. In the olden days, people had not much educated and couldn't understand the science behind this phenomenon. So most of the celestial events were connected with some or the other mythology / mythological character/s for easy understanding of the common man.
There is a scientific explanation for Aruna appearing before Sun rise and seen after Sun set. Due to refraction of light Sun appears to be rising from the horizon before it actually rises in the morning and is visible for few minutes at the horizon after it actually sets.
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 are no priests and no daily poojas /prayers in this temple. It is just a tourist attraction and is a World Heritage site which is crowded with tourists and devotees as well on this auspicious day.
Arasavalli Suryanarayana Temple in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, Dakshinarka temple at Gaya in Bihar and Arakonam in Tamil Nadu are few other Sun 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 public like other festivals yet spiritually it is an important / auspicious day celebrated by few devotees in some regions only.
Scientifically Sun is the Ultimate Source of Energy for all the living creatures on 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. Hence Sun is considered as the Visible God by Hindus as life on Earth depends on Sun.
Date of Ratha Saptami: January 31, 2020 (Friday).