It’s my great honor to welcome everyone in the Siddha Yoga Universal Hall.
Today, January 14, in honor of Makara Sankranti, we will be participating in the arati, which is being held via live video stream from the Bhagavan Nityananda Temple in Shree Muktananda Ashram.
My name is Ganesh Rajamani. I live with my family in San Diego, California, and I am currently a visiting sevite in Shree Muktananda Ashram. I’ve come to offer seva during the winter holiday season.
Makara Sankranti is a holiday in India that is dedicated to the worship of the sun god, Surya Devata. The reason for today’s worship of the sun is that in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the season of increased daylight. The sun has begun its six-month journey toward the north, a journey that is called Uttarayana.
The sun. The glorious sun around which our planet revolves—around which our entire solar system revolves—holds an exalted place in the traditions of so many cultures. It is worshipped, admired, and celebrated worldwide.
As we all know, for centuries, scientists have also shown great interest in the sun. It has been the subject of much of their inquiry and research. To this day, scientists continue to study the sun—its magnetic field, its vibrations, how it influences the earth’s climate—all to provide us with a deeper understanding of our closest star (which is only 93 million miles away!)
Today, because we are honoring the Indian holiday of Makara Sankranti, I am going to focus in my talk on how the sun is worshipped in the Indian tradition.
In many scriptures of India, you will find beautiful verses that offer praise to the sun. They describe the sun as the source of life, the soul of all creatures, the dispeller of darkness, the embodiment of wisdom and divine knowledge, the splendor that is the witness of the world. And these are just some of my favorite examples; the scriptures are replete with descriptions like this of the sun.
On the Siddha Yoga path, one of the foundational practices is to recite the text of Shri Guru Gita. In Shri Guru Gita, the sun is given as a metaphor for Shri Guru and the light of knowledge that the Guru imparts. The text also speaks of the Guru as the one who shines through the form of the sun.
Yet another scripture that draws upon imagery of the sun is the Rig Veda, which originated in ancient India. This scripture contains the Surya Gayatri mantra, which is a hymn to the sun. This is one of the most recited hymns from the Rig Veda because it is so accessible, and so potent. Millions of people begin their day by reciting the Surya Gayatri mantra—and they also recite this mantra when the sun is setting.
I learned the Surya Gayatri mantra when I was a young boy; I was taught by my father, my grandfather, and my uncles to recite it 108 times each morning, and I did this for quite a few years. My memories of the peacefulness I would experience from these recitations are still so fresh in my being. And even now, decades later, I continue to recite this gayatri mantra.
These are the words of the Surya Gayatri mantra:
ॐ भूर्भुवः स्वः
भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि।
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात्॥
oṁ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tat savitur vareṇyaṁ
bhargo devasya dhīmahi ।
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt ॥
The English translation of this mantra is:
Om. O Earth, Sky, and Heaven!
May we place within ourselves
the radiance of the divine Savitri,
the sun god,
who shall then awaken our insight.
You may have already known about this—but in honor of Makara Sankranti, I want to bring to your attention that there is a wonderful page on the Siddha Yoga path website that features a recording of the Surya Gayatri mantra.
There is one particular melody that everyone uses when singing the Surya Gayatri mantra. At the same time, many singers have created their own melodies for this mantra. The melody for this mantra that is on the Siddha Yoga path website was composed for Makara Sankranti in 2018 by an Indian Siddha Yogi who was a very well-known singer.
You may listen to and sing along with this recording of the Surya Gayatri mantra on the Siddha Yoga path website. The recording is about forty-five minutes in length, and you’re welcome to make use of it at sunrise, at sunset, at any time of day—and for any amount of time that works for you. You may also choose to recite the Surya Gayatri mantra aloud or repeat it silently.
I must say, I have been profoundly affected by what I’ve read in the scriptures of India about the sun and its immense power. What’s more, there are actually entire scriptures that have been written in praise of the almighty sun.
For example, there is the Surya Upanishad, in which the sages extol the sun in this exquisite and poetic manner:
From the Sun arise all beings.
The Sun sustains them all.
Into the Sun they all merge.
What the Sun is,
I am That.1
Isn’t the sun so amazing, so intriguing, so absolutely mesmerizing? And for us on the Siddha Yoga path, the sun is evocative of spiritual awakening.
In India, there are also several temples that are dedicated to the sun god, Surya Devata. One famous temple is the Konark Sun Temple, in Odisha, in the eastern part of India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is shaped like a colossal chariot. In the scriptures, Surya Devata is depicted traveling across the sky in a chariot.
Another prominent temple is the Sun Temple at Modhera in Gujarat, in the western part of India. This temple is known for its intricate stone carvings, which illustrate various aspects of Surya Devata, as well as other deities.
One of the rituals that is observed in the temples in India is arati, the offering of worship to the deity. One reason that arati is performed—particularly in the morning—is to set the tone for the day by greeting and honoring the deity of the temple. For the devotees of these deities, the morning arati is incredibly important. The devotees want to participate in the arati because they yearn for the first glance of the deity to fall upon them.
The Brahmin priests will sing mantras to gently wake up the deity. Then, when the arati is taking place, the devotees will begin to sing as well. The temples resound with their voices, and with the music of the instruments being played. It is a powerful and joyous experience—and it is very sacred. In these moments when the arati is being sung, it seems like every particle in the universe is awake with the light of God.
In Gurudev Siddha Peeth, the mother Ashram of the Siddha Yoga path in India, Bade Baba is greeted and worshipped every morning, before the sunrise, by performing arati.
Then there is an arati at noon, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.
And there is an arati in the evening when the sun is preparing to set for the day.
The Arati, as it is sung in Siddha Yoga Ashrams, is one of the most powerful practices on the Siddha Yoga path. Truly, the energy that courses through the music and the words, the sound and the light, is palpable.
Today, in honor of Makara Sankranti, you will be singing the Arati as the sun rises over Shree Muktananda Ashram.
You will see a pujari—the person who offers the arati—waving an arati lamp to Bade Baba. Traditionally, there are many ways to offer a flame to the deity during an arati. Trays and lamps in different shapes and sizes, and made of different metals, are used to offer arati. In the Siddha Yoga Ashrams, especially on celebration days, the pujari uses a larger lamp for arati, one which has many beautiful flames to represent the light within all of us.
While the pujari is waving the lamp, the musicians will be playing the drums, the conches, and the bells. After the pujari has waved the arati lamp, you will sing the Arati.
Today, as you participate in this arati in honor of Makara Sankranti—as you offer worship along with the entire Siddha Yoga sangham—I invite you to hold in your awareness a very special focus:
Focus on Bhagavan Nityananda’s golden form
and visualize Bade Baba as the embodiment of the sun.