The festival is of great importance at the Tirumala Tirupati Balaji Temple. It is said that the earth's inclination towards the sun is steepest on the Ratha Saptami day.
Ratha Saptami is observed on the seventh day of Shukla Paksha, or waxing phase of moon, in the Magh Month (January – February) in a traditional Hindu lunar calendar. The day is of great significance in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In Orissa, the day is observed as Magha Saptami. In other regions the day is observed as Surya Jayanti.
A kolam or rangoli of Lord Surya riding a chariot is made on the ground and worshipped in many places. Some people boil milk in earthen vessels on the day.
Another important ritual on the day is taking bath using Erukku leaves. This is followed mainly in Tamil Nadu. The rituals observed on the day vary from region to region.
On the seventh day of the bright half of the Magh month the Sun is worshipped. 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. Arunoday 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 earthen vessels while facing the sun. When the milk boils it is believed it reaches the sun.
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, 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.
In the country of Kamboj there was a king named Yashovarma. He was a religious minded ruler, arid 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 (“tricalgnani”), 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 ‘Rath Saptami’ and his sickness will completely disappear.”
Then Mimi 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 “munj” (thread) ceremony 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 “munj” ceremony every day in the evening 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 medita-tion and may the recitation of this gayatri illumine our intellect.”
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