Ratha Saptami or Rathasapthami or Magha Saptami is a Hindu festival that falls on the seventh day (Saptami) in the bright half (Shukla Paksha) of the Hindu month Maagha. It marks the seventh day following the Sun’s northerly movement (Uttarayana) of vernal equinox starting from Capricorn (Makara). It is symbolically represented in the form of the Sun God Surya turning his Ratha (Chariot) drawn by seven horses (representing seven colours) towards the northern hemisphere, in a north-easterly direction. It also marks the birth of Surya and hence celebrated as Surya Jayanti (the Sun-god’s birthday).
Ratha Saptami is symbolic of the change of season to spring and the start of the harvesting season. For most Indian farmers, it is an auspicious beginning of the New Year. The festival is observed by all Hindus in their houses and in innumerable temples dedicated to Surya, across India.
Remember this year we have a ‘Adhik Maasa’.It is symbolically represented in the form of the Sun God Surya turning his Ratha (Chariot) drawn by seven horses, with Aruna as the charioteer, towards the northern hemisphere, in a north-easterly direction. The symbolic significance of the Ratha and the seven horses reigned to it is that it represents the seven colours of the rainbow. The seven horses are also said to represent the seven days of a week starting with Sunday, the day of Sun god Surya. The Rathasapthami festival seeks the benevolent cosmic spread of energy and light from the Sun God.
Rathasapthami also marks the gradual increase in temperature and awaits the arrival of spring, which is later heralded by the festival of Ugadi or the Hindu lunar New Year day in the month of Chaitra.
God Vishnu in his form as Surya (the Sun-God) is usually worshiped on this day. Usually, Rathasapthami begins in households with a purification bath (bathing is also done in a river or sea) by holding several Ekka (Calotropis Gigantea) leaves on their head while bathing and chanting a verse which is supposed to invoke the benevolence of the Lord in all that one indulges in during the rest of the year. Its use during the ritualistic ceremonious bath involves placement of seven leaves – one on the head, two on the shoulders, two on the knees and two on the feet.
The following mantra on Sun god is chanted while taking the bath.
“Saptha Saptha Maha Saptha|
Saptha Dweepa Vasundara|
Sapth Arka Parna Madaya|
Sapthamyam Snana Machareth||”
By following this simple ritual people believe that the Lord will bless them with success for all their endeavors in the coming year.
Argyam or (Tharpanam) (water held in the palms) is offered to the Sun God on this day while chanting hymns to the Sun God. It also involves doing a Pooja with the ritual Naivedhya (food offering to God), and offering of flowers and fruits. Important prayers offered to the Sun god on this occasion are the Adityahridayam, Gayathri, Suryashtakam, Surya Sahasram namam. The preferred time for the pooja is within one hour after sunrise.