REFLECTIONS FOR THE 15TH JAN ISSUE OF H2H
The 14th of January is observed in Prashanti
Nilayam as Sankaranthi. This
is an important festival in India, and on this day, what happens
in Prashanti Nilayam is that Bhagavan Baba distributes Prizes
to those who participated in the Annual Sports and Cultural
Festival that takes place three days earlier on January 11th.
If you recall, it was on one such occasion, in 1999 to be
precise, that Swami revealed the grievous injury that He took
upon Himself to save some students who were attempting dare-devil
stunts on sports day. What exactly is Sankaranthi
and what is its significance? That is what I shall discuss
us start with the motion of the Earth around the Sun. The
axis of rotation of the Earth is tilted at an angle of about
22 degrees with respect to the plane on which the Earth moves
around the Sun. This is the reason why we have the seasons.
By the way, Pole star is directly in line with the axis of
rotation, in the North of course.
Now when the Earth goes round, there are four important days;
these are: 1) Vernal equinox which falls on March 20, 2) Summer
solstice which falls on June 21, 3) Autumnal equinox which
falls on September 23, and 4) Winter solstice which falls
on December 21. In what way are these days special?
Let us start with Summer solstice which falls on June 21.
In the northern hemisphere, this is the longest day. And in
a place in Norway, on that day the Sun never sets! In fact,
lots of tourists go there to celebrate that day. On that day,
the Sun is exactly over the Tropic of Cancer, its highest
point in the northern hemisphere. From June to August, the
Sun starts moving towards the southern hemisphere, and on
August 23 which is the Autumnal equinox, the Sun is right
over the Equator all set to cross over to the southern hemisphere.
On now to Winter solstice which falls on
December 21. This is the longest day in the southern hemisphere
Sun is now directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. In the northern
hemisphere, however, this is the longest night. From December
to March, the Sun starts moving towards the Equator, and for
people in the northern hemisphere this means the return of
the Sun to the north. On March 20, the Sun is exactly over
the equator, poised to travel towards the Tropic of Cancer.
Focus now on December 20th. This is the day when the Sun
starts its northward journey. For people in the northern hemisphere
this is a moment of joy, because the long dark nights would
finally be over. The Sun would be back, and winter would give
way to spring. This business of solstice, equinox etc., follows
regularly year after year. Enter now a human error.
We all know that the calendar year is 365 ¼ days.
Actually we close the year at 365 days and add one more day
every four years to correct for the shortfall - that is how
we have the leap years. Thousands of years ago, people were
not that accurate and took the solar year to be 365 days.
This meant that every year they were making an error of ¼
day, and over centuries this added up. Long ago when ancient
Hindus formulated the almanac, the Sun actually started its
northern trip on Janurary 14th. This was the day of the Winter
solstice then. However, people hung on to the notion that
the year had 365 days and this is what caused the problem.
Over the centuries, the day of return moved away from January
14th; it was now much earlier. For a long time, people did
not realise this, and all sorts of errors crept into the calendar.
But finally they woke up.
The long and short of all this is that in 1582, Pope Gregory
reset the calendar. That is the calendar we now follow and
it is called the Gregorian calendar. With this resetting,
Winter solstice now falls on December 21, the correct day.
But those who have not corrected the calendar follow the old
date, January 14th in India. In fact, this has happened even
with respect to Christmas. In the State of Kerala, we have
Christians who came in the third century A.D. They are known
as Syrian Christians and they celebrate Christmas some time
in January as, I believe, followers of the Russian Orthodox
In short, Sankaranthi
is linked to the return of the Sun to the northern hemisphere
from the south. January 14th, the day on which it is celebrated
was the correct date thousands of years ago; now, it is not,
though the celebrations, in keeping with ancient traditions
are still held on that day.
Let us now look at the spiritual implications. Interestingly,
deeper significance has been attached to this event by all
ancient societies, the pagans of Europe for example. What
about India, and what does Swami have to say about it?
The return of the Sun to the north was referred
to by ancient Indians as Uttarayana.
Ayana means journeying.
When the apparent movement of the Sun is northwards, the period
is called Uttarayana [Uttara means north]. When the apparent
movement is southward, it is called Dakshinayana [Dakshina
means south]. The period of Uttarayana is marked by brightness,
peace, rejoicing, fearlessness, and purity. Dakshinayana is
characterised by darkness, absence of peace, fear, and distress.
In the Gita,
Krishna makes a passing reference to these two journeys of
the Sun, and based on this people began to assume that if
one died or gave up the body in the Uttarayana
period then one got liberated while if one died in the Dakshinayana
period it meant continued bondage or rebirth. Brightness meant
heaven while darkness meant something not desirable. What
gave greater credence to this belief was the famous story
of Bhishma of Mahabharatha who
held on to life and gave up his body only after the onset
of Uttarayana. But is all this
belief really true? I mean is one really liberated when one
dies when the Sun is up north? If it were, then there would
be a strange anomaly for people in Australia, South Africa,
Latin America and so on, because they too would get liberated
even though for them the Sun was not in their hemisphere!
Obviously, this cannot be true, and there must be something
deeper in all this. What is that and what is the correct way
to interpret what Krishna says? Swami has given the answer.
Uttarayana is no doubt
the period when there is no dot of cloud or whiff of fog contaminating
the vast dome and the Sun shines in all his glory. This is
the gross meaning. But there is a subtle meaning too. The
Heart is the Inner sky. There the Sun that shines is Buddhi
or Intelligence. When the cloud of ignorance, the fog of egoism,
and the smoke of attachment hover in the Inner sky, the Sun
of Intelligence is hidden and things look murky. The Uttarayana
of the Heart is when the Inner sky is clear of all these,
and the Sun of Intelligence shines in full splendour.
Those who pass away
in the other half of the year, the Dakshinayana, have the
opposite destiny; then the Heart is beset with smoke, fog
and cloud. The Sun is hidden, and its effulgence has no splendour.
The real Uttarayana is when you crave for the thought of the
Lord and the company of Glory.
In effect therefore, dying in Uttarayana
means drawing the last breath with the thought of the Lord
in one's Mind. We pray: From darkness lead us to Light.
Indeed, when light fills the Heart, the time of death does
not really matter. That is the real message of Sankaranthi.
Jai Sai Ram