Sun moves within 12 signs of the zodiac throughout the year; and its ingression to a new sign is called Sankramana. In Mundane Astrology, four ingression points are of prime importance:
- Makara Sankramana – Sun enters Makara (Capricorn)
- Tula Sankramana – Sun enters Tula (Libra)
- Mesha Sankramana – Sun enters Mesha (Aries)
- KarakaSankramana – Sun enters Karaka (Cancer)
Sages of the yore who designed the Hindu Calendar, have arranged the holy festivals for fostering mental stamina and emotional purity. Of the four, Makara Sankramana, also known as ‘Makara Sankranti’ is considered as the most important point, which takes place on 14 January every year. This marks the movement of the Sun from South (Dakshin) to North (Uttar) direction, hence also called Uttarayana (Uttara – North, Ayana – Movement).
Makara Sankranti (in North and West India), Pongal (in South India), Bihu (in East India) and Lohri (especially in New Delhi, Haryana and Punjab) are more or less the different names of the same festival celebrated to rejoice the end of the winter season and to welcome the spring season. It is also a harvest festival and is celebrated during the early stages of the agricultural season when crops are sown, hard work is done, and it is a time to rejoice. Although, these festivals have different names, the essence of celebration remains the same.
Inner Meaning of Uttarayana
The Northward movement of the Sun is considered significant, both spiritually and scientifically; and its northward journey has to be properly understood.
Sun moves towards the North, what does this mean spiritually? North signifies the direction towards Himachala (Hima + Achala). Hima means pure, white, cool and untainted as snow and Achala means firm, steady and unshakable as Himalaya. Himalaya is also known as the abode for Lord Siva.
Sun gives light and we see through Light. Hence Sun stands for Vision. As per Vedas, Sun is Self-Effulgence and stands for Atma, Intellect, Inner Consciousness, and Eyes. Moon stands for Mind, Thoughts, Desires and Eyes. Moon does not has her own light, she only reflects the light of the Sun. Using this analogy, the northward movement of the Sun towards Himalaya (Lord Siva) is a call to humanity to turn its vision Inwards, towards Self Realisation, towards Self Effulgence Atma which is absolute pure, cool and untainted. In other words, this is the call to humanity to take concrete steps to develop quest for Liberation and get out of the cycle of Birth and Death. If Sun, the intellect/vision goes inwards, then obviously, the Moon, the Mind would also reflect the same (the Self-Effulgence light of Sun – the Atma)
The Sun’s passage towards the North or South are all related to Prakriti (the subjective world), so they have only relative value. Uttarayana is a quality of the Nayana (the eye); it is the matter of attitude. It is not an Ayana (solstice point). When one’s sight is on Brahman (God), it is Uttarayana(Northwards) and when it is on the objective World, it is Dakshinayana (Southwards). When one has developed excellent quality, every day is Uttarayana whatever the almanac may say. When one has fever, the tongue will be bitter but when healthy, one knows know all tastes. The bitter tongue is the Dakshinayana, the sweet tongue is the Uttarayana. To associate this with the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn is just a convention.
As per Vedic Astrology, Makara sign (Capricorn sign) represents unparalleled loyalty and reliability,the height of achievement and the recognition that comes from years of work by keeping foot on the ground i.e., without Ego. Makara (Capricorn) is the tenth sign of the natural Zodiac and whenever Sun transits this house, it is in its highest point, it gains amazing strength, hence showers its positive characteristics on humanity. Now the onus is on human being to take the advantage of this configuration. For example, if it’s raining outside and one keeps the pot upside down then no water could be collected in it. The pot has to be kept in the right way to fill the rain water in it. Another example, it’s said, midday is the best time to get Vitamin D from Sun as it is in highest point, but one would have to get out of the house and be under Sun light for some recommended time.
Similarly, from spiritual perspective, Sun in Makara, is showering it’s amazing grace to spiritual aspirants. Sun is hailed as the supreme example of Selfless and Tireless service. Sun teaches the humble lesson of devotion to duty, without any conceit. Sun by its upwards journey and its position, provides assistance to all spiritual aspirants to take another step ahead towards spiritual progress with unshakeable Discipline, Dedication, Determination, Devotion and their his Duty. I would say, Uttarayana is the appropriate occasion, rather say an opportunity provided by the Nature to humanity to step up in spirituality. This is the royal road for the spiritual aspirant to realise the Supreme. It’s said, one must be more concerned with one’s own journey that is nearing its end with every Sunrise. The true Northward journey occurs inside each one of us. The Mind has to be turned inwards, towards Atma, and then bliss is experienced. One should use God-given intellect to work hard to reach the Goal of Life―Self-realisation
How do we take up the this upwards journey?
Every effort should be made to direct the vision inwards towards the pure and sacred Indwelling Self. Basically one has to devise his/her own method, but I would say, the very first step shall be to develop the habit of Thinking Good, Speaking Good and Doing Good at all times. Let this become your habit, your nature and ultimately your character.
Importance of Uttarayana
During the time of Mahabharata, the great warrior, Bhishma Pitamah had the ‘Ichcha Mrityu’ boon (he could choose his time of his death at his own will). During the war, He fell wounded on the bed of arrows and waited in that painful state for 56 days. He could have chosen to leave the body straight away on the day of falling down, but HE did not. In fact he waited for the commencement of Uttarayana, as the right time for giving up the body. But for 56 painful days, He was keeping his thoughts focused on Lord in totality and nothing else. That qualified Him to get Liberation. This signifies the sacredness of this day. The scriptures have declared that those who pass on during the Uttarayana have no rebirth. This does not mean that one should hang oneself in Uttarayana in the hope of securing freedom from rebirth! The right way to give up one’s life is to fill one’s mind with holy thoughts and let the end come in the natural course.
When one craves the thought of the Lord and the company of the Godly, then one is in Uttarayana. Bhishma was in that mood. He prayed,
- Asato Ma Sad Gamaya: Lead me from Untruth to Truth
The deeper meaning is “From this transient world of decay, Lead me to the everlasting world of bliss”
- Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya: Lead me from Darkness to Light
The deeper meaning is “Give me the Effulgence of Thy Grace and Illumine my soul with truth”
- Mrtyor Ma Amrtam Gamaya: Lead me from Death to Immortality
The deeper meaning is “Save me from the torture of Birth and Death, destroy the cravings of the mind, which produce the seeds of birth, and lead me to immortality”
This prayer and the yearning, gave Bhishma the vision of Krishna when he passed away. That was the real Uttarayana for him.
The above Vedic prayer comes from (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, I.iii.28). God willing, in time to come I would like to write more in detail on this Divine and Liberating Mantra
What is Spirituality?
In my opinion, first we must understand the difference between Religion and Spirituality.
In short, Religion may be said as a personal set or institutionalised system of attitudes, beliefs and practices to serve and worship the chosen aspect of God.
Spirituality, I would try to put as simple as possible – Spirituality is giving up all animal qualities which are deeply rooted in the heart accrued over past births and also winning over Six Inner Enemies/Tendencies such as Kama (desire), Krodha (anger), Moha (attachment), Lobha (greed), Mada (ego) and Matsra (envy)
I take this as an opportunity and this space to mention my all-time favourite definition of Spirituality, as: “Spirituality is having courage and determination to listen to the Inner Voice and walking on it at all times”. I believe this would lead to the highest Goal which human being is supposed to achieve
I am trying my best to follow this statement, believe it’s not a cake walk.