The Significance of Sankranti and Sacredness of Uttarayana

This festive day has been celebrated from ancient times as a day of fulfillment and joy. Every festival is a social occasion, arising in society, flourishing in society, and promoting the well being of society. Every festival has been designed to promote the welfare of society. With social changes, festivals also have undergone changes. Today’s festival is an extremely important one for Bharatiyas. It is a festival to celebrate the glory of the Sun God. The Sun moves every month from one sign of Zodiac to the next. Sankranti, meaning “sacred change”, occurs every month as the Sun moves from one house of the Zodiac to another. But special sacredness attaches to the movement of the Sun to Capricorn (Makara-Sankranti).

The Sun appears cool
The day is shortened
And is made pleasant by chill wind
On fields lit by moonlight
The crows caw over the grain heaps
While farmers sing in joy
Over the golden harvest
The flowers express their joy
By putting forth their petals
While in every home, filled with grain,
The people welcome the advent of Sankranti
(Telugu Poem)

On Sankranti day, the farmers rejoice over the fullness with the newly harvested crop of the granaries in their homes. When the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn, it begins its northward motion. The sun shines in every human body, illuminating the six Chakras (spiritual centres in the body). Of these Chakras, two are most important: the Hridaya (heart) Chakra and the Sahasrara Chakra. The Hridaya Chakra has eight petals. God is the Lord of the eight-petaled Hridaya Chakra. These eight petals are regarded as eight consorts of the Lord. In this context, the Lord is adored in the form of the Sun. The world cannot survive without the Sun. The solar system is derived from the Sun. Hence, the Sun is worshipped as divine.  

Sahasrara Chakra represents 16,000 Gopikas

The ancient sages adored the eight-petaled divine centre in the heart and thereby reached the Sahasrara Chakra and enjoyed supreme bliss. The Sahasrara Chakra has a thousand petals. Each petal carries 16 phases (Kalas). Thus the Sahasrara Chakra is said to represent 16,000 cowherd maidens (Gopikas), while the 8 petals of the Hridaya Chakra are adored as the 8 consorts of Krishna.

The syllable go in the word Gopikas has four meanings: The Veda, the cow, the earth, and the faculty of speech (Vak). The Gopikas derive their different attributes from these different meanings. They chant the Vedas, protect the cows, nourish the earth, and proclaim the glories of the Divine by their speech. In making an offering to Krishna, the mantra that is used is Kleem Krishnaya Govindaya Gopijana Vallabhaya Swaha. It is interesting to explore the full significance of this Mantra. Kleem means the earth. It is the first element. Krishnaya signifies water. Govindaya signifies fire (Agni). Gopijana Vallabhaya signifies air (Vayu). Swaha signifies space (Akasha). Thus, the mantra represents all five elements in the cosmos as manifestations of the Divine. The cosmos cannot exist without these five elements. They are all-pervading. It follows that there is no place in the cosmos where God is not immanent. The cowherd maidens, through this Mantra, taught the world that God should be adored as the omnipresent Divine everywhere in the cosmos. Hence, in every atom, all the time, in every particle, the Divine is present.

The Spiritual Goal of the Ancient Sages

The ancient sages reached the thousand petaled Sahasrara through the adoration of the Lord in the eight-petaled lotus of the heart. They used all their God-given intelligence for this spiritual goal. But modern man uses his intelligence only for worldly ends. The sages considered cultivation of virtues, good qualities, and righteous conduct as true education. 

What do the eight petals of the heart represent? They are: love (Prema), truth (Satyam), forbearance (Sahanam), sacrifice (Tyaga), compassion (Daya), beauty (Sundaram), bliss (Ananda) and peace (Shanti). To realize the bliss of the Divine, all the other qualities have to be fostered. God is the embodiment of all these eight attributes. Sacrifice is the most important of them.

The chakora bird is an example for man in the pursuit of purity. It will not drink any water except what rains from a cloud in the sky. It sees in a dark rain-bearing cloud the divine form of the Lord. Man should seek to see and experience the Divine in every object and every being. Students should experience the Divine in all their studies and sports. It has been said: Life is a game, Play it! Life must be permeated with love. Through love, truth can be realized and a righteous life can be lived. The ancients attached the highest value to good character. They considered that if character was lost, all was lost. Today, people consider that if wealth is lost all is lost. They attach no value to character. Men should strive to lead virtuous lives. The cowherd maids (gopikas) provide the supreme example of how to lead a life dedicated to the Divine. The episode of Uddhava’s mission to the cowherd maids and their reaction to it as described in the Bhagavatam shows what true and one-pointed devotion to Krishna meant for the cowherd maids. They had totally surrendered their minds and hearts to Krishna.

The Sacredness of Uttarayana

This day marks the entry of the Sun into the sign of Capricorn in his northward journey (Uttarayana). Bhishmacharya, lying on a bed of arrows after he fell wounded, waited for the commencement of Uttarayana to give up his spirit to the Lord. He lay on the bed of arrows for 56 days. This signifies the sacredness of this day. This is the moment to fill one’s heart with divine feelings.

There is no need to seek God in a temple, mosque, or church. He is enshrined in every human heart. Unfortunately people go on expensive pilgrimages to all sorts of places, forgetting that God is the dweller in their hearts. Why should Indian students go abroad for studies or jobs? It is better to earn ten rupees within India than ten thousand rupees abroad. This craze for going abroad is utterly meaningless. It is better to lead a good life within India than to pursue the mirage of careers abroad. In this context, it is good to remember the teachings of the sage Narada on devotion. Narada is misrepresented as one who reveled in promoting discord. This is totally wrong. He expounded the highest truths about devotion (bhakti) and taught how man should realize oneness with God through intense devotion.

Integral relationship between society and nature

What people need today is yearning for unity in diversity. Human beings are like limbs of the body of society. They are integral parts of society. Society is a part of nature, and nature is a limb of God. Hence, the integral and organic relationship between the individual and God through society and nature should be properly understood. The body is important in the spiritual process. The Gita has declared that the body (Kshetra) and the indwelling knower (Kshetrajna) are one. Hence, men should engage themselves in sacred actions that will promote the welfare of society and uphold its reputation. To transform society, the first requisite is individual transformation. Purify your heart. Then society will also become pure. You should adhere to truth, like Harishchandra did, prepared to face any ordeal. Never go back on your plighted word. 

Source: Excerpt from the Divine Discourse on January 14, 1998 at Prasanthi Nilayam

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