Of the twelve months in a year, the first six month period – Tamil month Thai onwards – is called Uttarayanam. Uttara in Sanskrit means north; Ayanam means path; uttarayanam refers to the six month period of Sun’s northerly path; likewise, dakshinayanam is the six month period of Sun’s south-ward path.
Our calendars have been set with reference to Sun. One revolution of earth around the Sun constitutes a calendar year. Bifurcation of the year into the two ayanams is based on Sun’s direction of movement with reference to the earth. The first day of the week, we call it Adityavaram, or, Banuvaram, the day of Sun – the westerners call it much the same, Sunday.
We consider Dakshinayanam as the night of devatas – which is why traditionally we did not do any auspicious ceremonies like marriage during that period. Even today in the first and last months of Dakshinayanam - the Tamil months of Adi and Margazhi - there are no muhurtham days. A vast majority of such auspicious days fall during the Uttarayanam period – Tamil months Thai to Ani: which is we say ‘Thai Pirandal Vazhi Pirakkum’.
Margazhi month itself is like the early morning for the devatas, ‘ushatkalam’, which is why it is earmarked for prayers – early morning bhajans, Tiruppavai, Tiruvembavai, etc., as well as major temple festivals like Aarudra Darshanam in Shiva temples especially Chidambaram and Vaikunda Ekadasi darshan in Vaishanavite temples in Srirangam, Tirupathi etc. Lord Krishna says in Bhagavat Gita that among months he is Margazhi.
After the peace and quiet Margazhi focused on devotion, Thai begins with a bang. Traditionally it is the completion of harvest in south India and therefore especially in Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh it is celebrated with symbols strongly associated with harvest. Our festivals all have a strong link with nature. Bhoghi is meant for prayers to Lord Indra and all gods: feeding birds is something people did traditionally. Pongal, or Sankaranthi, is for the Sun God. The next day is for Cow. Most importantly, however, Pongal is about the Sun.
Upanishads tell us that the Sun is ‘The-All’ in the Universe. Lord Rama himself – ‘yuddha parisrantam, or, battle-weary and in deep contemplation, having to do one more battle with Ravana - was advised by Sage Agastya, to recite Aditya Hridayam. He asked Lord Rama to pray to the Sun God: to achieve not just victory in all battles, but, ‘paramam Shivam’, or supreme bliss. Aditya Hridayam goes on to say:
- Aditya, or the Sun, represents the totality of all celestial beings – ‘sarva devas’: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Skanda and Prajapathy, as well as, Mahendra, Kubera, yama, soma and varuna.
- He is the son of Aditi, the creator of Universe; he is the sustainer and illuminator of everything. He is Omnipresent.
- He is the ultimate dispeller of darkness, master of all vedas; the transcendental fire, the fire of supreme knowledge. ‘Vedascha kratavascha’ – He is the Lord of all action and the vedas.
- ‘Jayaya jayabhadraya haryasvaya namo namah’: salutations to the One who ordains victory and prosperity. Salutations to the transcendental atman that dispels darkness, drives all fears and destroys all foes.
Sage Agastya advises Lord Rama that more than anything else Aditya Hridayam would give him courage: after reciting Aditya Hridayam thrice, Rama did exactly that: literally lifted his bow with his mighty arms.
What is good enough for the Purushottama, or the greatest of beings, Lord Rama, should be good for all of us. It is enjoined on us to recite Aditya Hridayam every day. Those of us who do not do so already, may we begin, by reciting it on the day earmarked for Aditya, the Pongal day.
Hara Hara Sankara; Jaya Jaya Sankara
(This article is based on material from Sri Kamakoti Pradeepam, a monthly journal published by Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt.)