Ratha Saptami - the ex-Uttarayana-start
Today (30 Jan 2012) is Ratha Saptami.
It happens every Shukla Saptami
(7th day of the bright fortnight)
in the lunar month of Maagha.
A bath on this day within 1.5 hours
before sunrise is considered to
be punya equivalent to that of a
bath during a solar eclipse.
There is a tradition to place
the leaves of Arka (Calotropis procera;
Tamil: Erukku; Telugu: Jilledu;
Kannada: Ekka; Hindi: Aak)
on ones head when taking the bath.
Puranas talk about the Ratha Saptami Vrata
whose central rite are prayers to the Sun.[+]
Ratha Saptami used to mark the start of
Uttarayana during Mahabharata.
Bhishma could choose the
moment to die. So, when he is
disabled during the Bharata war,
he declares that he would die
after Uttarayana starts.[*]
Bhishma lives on for 58 more nights.
By then, the war is over.
The victorious Pandavas and their
entourage visit Bhishma on his
last day. That is when Bhishma
From these observations and the
- the Sun has changed direction
(Uttarayana has started)
- three-fourth of Maagha is left over
(it is the eighth day of Maagha)
- it is the bright fortnight [#]
fact that the central deity of the day
is Surya we can conclude that
Maagha Shukla Saptami marked the
start of Uttarayana during the Mahabharata war.
Uttarayana has shifted but our celebration continues.
[+] According to Vrata Chudamani
[*] Mahabharata Bhishma Parva; Adhyaya 115; verse 48
[#] Mahabharata Anushasana Parva; Adhyaya 153; verses 26-28