Belief and Rituals associated with Ratha Saptami
Ratha Saptami is a highly auspicious day which is ruefully considered as holy and divine and blessed for the act of Surya Grahan and Dan-Punya activities. The worshipping of Surya and keeping fast on this day landmark day ensures the abolishing of all sins. Mortal world proclaims that seven types of sins are done, knowingly, unknowingly, by words, by body, by mind, in current birth and in previous births which is collectively and unanimously purged by worshipping Lord Surya on this day.
On Ratha Saptami one should take bath during Arunodaya. Ratha Saptami Snan is one of the important rituals and is suggested during Arunodaya only. Arunodaya period prevails for four Ghatis before sunrise. Indulging in the holy bath before sunrise during Arunodaya keeps one healthy and free from all types of ailments and diseases. Because of this belief, Ratha Saptami is also known as Arogya Saptami. Taking bath in water body like river, canal is preferred over taking bath at home.
After taking bath one should worship Lord Surya during sunrise by offering Ardhyadan to Him. Ardhyadan is performed by slowly offering water to Lord Surya from small Kalash with folded hand in Namaskar Mudra while facing Lord Sun in standing position. After this one should light Deepak of pure Ghee and worship Sun God with Kapoor, Dhup, and red flowers. By doing morning Snan, Dan-Punya and Ardhyadan to Suryadev one is bestowed with long life, good health and prosperity.
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 meditation and may the recitation of this Gayatri illumine our intellect."
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 is 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.
Myth Related to Ratha Saptami
It is from ancient times that men have attributed divinity to the sun. Histories of ancient India reveal such dichotomy. Time changed and men have chosen the mediums to portray such. It was in the country of Kamboj where a king named Yashovarma resided. Tainted by religiosity he was the example of a mighty ruler in whose kingdom arid happiness prevailed. But time showcased his paramount influence on him and the reflections of grey overshadowed his mighty spirit. As he was without an offspring the country was without an heir to the throne. 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.