Ratha Saptami is one of the biggest festivals that come in the month of Magh. It falls on the seventh day in the bright half of Hindu month magh. Lord Surya who is believed to be an incarnation of lord Vishnu is worshipped on this day. Ratha Saptami day is considered as birth day of God Surya. Hence this day is also known as Surya Jayanti. It falls on the second day after Vasant Panchami or Shri Panchami or Madana Panchami. The day is known by several names such as Saur Saptami, Achala Saptami, Vidhan Saptami, Arogya Saptami and Radha Saptami
Surya Narayan, the God of health is worshipped for better health and well-being of human. Hence this day is also called arogya saptami. Observing the arogya saptami vrata is highly meritorious for those suffering from ailments and diseases.
Lord Surya depicted as riding a chariot driven by seven horses is worshipped on this day. This day represents symbolically in the form of the Surya Narayan turning his Chariot drawn by seven horses, with Aruna as the charioteer towards the northern hemisphere. The seven horses represent the seven days of a week starting with Sunday, the day of Sun Narayan. The 12 wheels represent the 12 zodiac signs and constitute a full year. The festival indicates the beginning of summer and also indicates the rise in atmospheric temperature across the south India. This is the start of the harvesting season. It is said that the earth's inclination towards the sun is steepest on the Rath Saptami day.
Ratha Saptami Legend
Once a noble King called Yashovarma was ruling the Kamboj empire. He was a very religious in nature and because of his righteousness all his people were healthy and happy. But he had no heir to rule his kingdom after him. So He worshipped sun God and finally he was blessed with a son. Later on, unfortunately his son fell very sick.
A Muni came to the king and told him that his sickness is because of his sins he had done in his previous birth. So the muni advised the king to make his son to observe vow of Ratha Saptami. King’s son performed the puja on Ratha Saptami and became healthy to rule his people without any sufferings. From that time the day of Ratha Saptami is observed by people to get good health and longevity.
Ratha Saptami Rituals
Ratha saptami is observed with great fervour by Hindus. Special bathing rituals are observed in some regions on this day. An important ritual on the day is taking bath using Erukku leaves. This is followed mainly in Tamilnadu. On this day people take a purification bath in the early morning and it is suggested during Arunodaya only. It is believed that by taking a bath at dawn on this day will remove the sins acquired during the seven births. After taking bath people worship Lord Surya during sunrise by offering Argyam or (Tharpanam) (water held in the palms) to the sun god. Many people bow twelve times to sun god in respect on this day and chant twelve synonyms of the Sun God one at a time. The synonyms of the Sun God are Marichi, Aditya, Savita ,Mitra, Ravi, Surya, Ahanu, Khag, Pushan, Hirnyagarbha, Arka and Bhaskar. In many places women folk draw images of the sun god with a chariot drawn by the horses in front of home to welcome the Sun-god. This is surrounded by a rangoli and cow dung is burnt in the centre. In the courtyard milk is boiled in earthen vessels while facing the sun. Then Paramannam or sweet rice is prepared using the above milk. The payasam cooked with new rice is offered to Sun God as Naiveedyam. On this day people also chant Gayatri Mantra and recite Surya Sahasranaam.
Thousands of devotees throng the temples dedicated to the sun god on Ratha Saptami day. The day is of great importance at the Tirumala Tirupati Balaji Temple and special pujas are held on the day.
In 2013 Ratha Saptami had special significance because it was celebrated during the famous Maha Kumbh Mela held in Allahabad from 27th January to 25th February. The main reason to attend the largest holy festival of Kumbh Mela is to take a dip in the Holy river on the auspicious dates. It is said that holy dip in sacred river during Maha Kumbh frees humans out of the circle of life and death. On important bathing dates, lakhs of pilgrims take bath on the banks of the holy Sangam. Rath saptami is one of the seven important bathing days during the Maha Kumbh Mela.