Follow the Hindu Moon
A guide to the festivals of south India
Soumya Aravind Sitaraman
Did you know?
Uttaraayana Punya Kaalam is really the winter solstice?
Interesting links on the winter solstice
By Soumya Aravind Sitaraman
The time is come for all of us
to celebrate. Uttarāyana Punya Kālam begins and with it, our
ancients tell us, everything fortuitous, auspicious and bountiful. The
most fabled reinforcement of this idea is the story of Bhishma in the epic
Mahabharata. Bhishma lay on a bed of arrows at the Kurukshetra battlefield
for fifty eight nights councelling Yudhishtira, passing on his immense
knowledge of the vedas, kingship and philosophy as he waited for Uttarāyana
to release his soul from its bondage to his body in the lunar month Magha.
What is Uttarāyana and what
marks the advent of Uttarāyana? Uttarāyana is the apparent
movement of the sun north, Uttara, for one half of the year, ayana. As the Earth revolves around the sun in
orbit, the tilt of the earth on its axis causes a gradual change in where
the direct rays of the sun fall. During the winter solstice, southern
hemisphere tilts towards the sun. The sun the rays of the sun appear to
fall directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. The southern hemisphere
experiences the longest day and shortest night and the northern hemisphere
experiences the opposite, i.e., the shortest day and longest night.
the earth travels along its orbit, the length of the day in the northern
hemisphere increases gradually until half a year later, the northern
hemisphere experiences the longest day and shortest night, the summer
solstice. The northern hemisphere now tilts towards the sun and the rays
of the sun appear directly over the Tropic of Cancer. From our perspective
on Earth, the sun has apparently traveled between the Tropic of Capricorn
to the Tropic of Cancer, Uttarāyana. The return journey is called
The Rishis, scientist sages,
observed that the longer
daylight after the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere due to the
apparent movement of the sun north, uttara, towards the tropic of Cancer
brought with it warmth, light, productivity, agricultural bounty and
must have been an extremely significant aspect of their lives as they
lived through the chill and darkness prevalent during the Ice Age in the
Treta Yuga. Therefore this was certainly an occasion to celebrate.
begins with the winter solstice, a date that is now December 22. Bhishma
waited for this period of release and then surrendered his soul to
Krishna. Times change. For example, uttarāyana for Bhishma was in the lunar month Magha, a period that coincides
with the modern calendar’s February-March period. The Tamizh panchangam,
unlike the purely lunar panchangams followed by the Kannadigas and Andhras,
pegs the beginning of uttarāyanam with Makara Sankranti. This was accurate 1728 years ago, during the
last correction for the precession of the equinoxes made for this
calendar. Since then, the
real winter solstice got pushed back a little bit at a time from January
15, to where it is now, 22 December, when the sun transits Dhanu,
Sagittarius and not Makara, Capricorn.
There are very real
social, political and cultural consequences to this
discrepancy. Some communities consider the last month of Dakshināyana
now codified as between mid-December and mid-January, as inauspicious. For
those who believe in the concept of uttarāyana,
but do not comprehend the astronomy that codifies the date, death during
this time, mid-December and mid-January, is extremely undesirable
as the fear of not obtaining moksha and the blessings of the deities run
deep. People similarly defer business deals and wait for ‘Uttarāyana’
during Makara sankranti to clinch deals, an unnecessary delay as Uttarāyana
by ancient and modern celestial definition now begins on 22 December.
begins with the winter solstice on 22 December. May the
coming months prove fruitful, with the blessings of the Gods showered on
all that we endeavor.
Soumya Aravind Sitaraman (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved