Ratha Saptami is a Hindu festival that falls on the seventh day (Saptami) in the bright half (Shukla Paksha) of the Hindu month Maagha. It is symbolically represented in the form of the Sun God Surya turning his Ratha (Chariot) drawn by seven horses that carry his chariot symbolise the seven hues of the rainbow (representing seven colours). 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. Devotees believe that on the day of Ratha Saptami, Lord Surya started enlightening the world and is also considered to be the birth day of the Sun God. The day is also known as Surya Jayanti at many places.
Ratha Saptami, also referred to as Arogya Saptami, finds a special mentioned. Sometimes, even known as Achala Saptami, the Ratha Saptami day is dedicated to Surya Bhagwan (the Sun God). As it is evident from the name, the festival is celebrated on the seventh day (Saptami Tithi) of Magha, Shukla Paksha (brighter phase of the Lunar cycle).
Ratha Saptami significance
Surya Bhagwan is hailed as a deity who is visible to the human eye. Interestingly, Surya is one of the Gods who find a mention in the Vedas, (oldest scriptures known to mankind). The Vedas are also known as Apaurusheya, meaning, the one not created by man. Therefore, he plays a pivotal role in the lives of people. As per the legend, the Sun God was born to Sage Kashyapa and Aditi on the Saptami Tithi of Magha, Shukla Paksha. Hence, Ratha Saptami Day is also known as Surya Jayanti.
Therefore, devotees worship the Sun God and pay ode to him for sustaining life on Earth. They rise early and take a bath during Arunodaya (sunrise). This ritual is one of the most essential aspects of Ratha Saptami. Belief suggests that one can get riddance from the sins they may have committed – by words, by actions, intentionally, unintentionally, theoretically, in the previous birth or the present birth – by taking a bath in a sacred river during Arunodaya.
After the ritualistic holy dip, devotees offer Arghya (water) to the Sun God. They hold a kalash (small pot) filled with water and gently tilting it towards him. After Arghya is performed, they offer an oil/ghee lamp, red flowers, incense and an ignited camphor to the Sun God while chanting mantras dedicated to him. Besides getting rid of sins, one can also maintain good health by keeping diseases at bay by worshipping the Sun God on Ratha Saptami, belief suggests.
Arasavalli – The Sun temple in Srikakulam
A prominent temple dedicated to Surya can be found in Arasavalli Sun Temple, which is in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, India. The temple is built in such a way that the sun rays fall on the feet of the God, twice in a year in the months of February and June in the early hours of the day. All Sundays during the five months starting with ‘Magha Nakshatra’ are considered sacred.
Idols of Aditya, Ambica, Vishnu, Ganesha and Maheswara representing different faiths have been installed in one place. The Sun God is depicted riding over a chariot drawn by seven horses driven by Anurudu, the Ratha Sarathi. It has been exquisitely carved out of a single black granite stone.
The coastal district temple is peculiar with its latitude aligned to the minor lunar standstill. Also the transition from lunar calendar of north India to solar calendar of south India can be seen in the local culture. This is probably the eastern most sun temple in the peninsular India, where prayers are offered till date.
The place, Chicacole, has a significance in the Kalinga (historical region) kingdom with their port at Kalingapatnam, making it to Megasthenes dairy (Calingae). The diaspora is spread in the present day south east asia at historical Kalinga (province), Kalingga Kingdom etc. Prince Vijaya, the first ruler of Srilanka is believed to have a Kalinga lineage. The original name Harshavalli means abode of joy. It is believed to have been built in the 7th Century AD by the Kalinga rulers Devendra Varma .