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Re: Significane of Sankranthi??

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Tue Jan 16 2001 - 21:34:57 PST

A couple of followup points to Sri Rajeev's and Sri Sadagopan's 
replies on sankrAnti:

o The word 'sankrAnti' or 'sankramaNa' literally means
  'crossing', and refers to the sun's crossing of the
  Tropic of Cancer (makara), as mentioned by Rajeev.  
  A sankramaNa marks the beginning of every solar 
  month in the Vedic calendrical system.  This date
  falls on or around January 14th of every year.

o Many years ago (I am not sure of exactly when, but at least 
  over two thousand years back), the winter *solstice* coincided
  with makara sankrAnti. The winter solstice refers to the day
  with the fewest hours of sunlight in the year, and marks the time 
  when the sun moves from its southern course to its northern.
  Back when our rishis were setting up the puNya-kAlas, etc.,
  this solstice also occurred on or around January 14th,
  which is why we reckon sankrAnti as the 'uttarAyaNa-puNya-kAla',
  or the holy day on which the sun starts progressing northward
  once again.

  However, due to the fact that the earth precesses (spins like
  a top), the date of the solstice and the makara sankramaNa have 
  been slowly drifting apart.  During the early days of Christianity,
  the winter solstice occured on December 25, which is why
  Christmas began being celebrated on that day.  These days,
  the solstice occurs on December 21, meaning that astronomically
  speaking, the uttarAyaNa-puNya-kAla actually occurs on December 21.

  The early Indian astronomers were not unaware of this drift.
  My friend Martin Gansten informs me, 

     The sun in fact begins its northern course (uttara-ayana) at the 
     winter solstice, and its southern course (dakshina-ayana) at the summer 
     solstice. Balabhadra in his Horaratna acknowledges this, but states that 
     these definitions are only used for 'special purposes'; in general, the 
     ayanas are equated with Makara and Karka sankrantis. This is obviously 
     a simplification dating from the time (200-400 CE) when the two phenomena 
     nearly coincided. Nowadays it is off by nearly a month!

o The other term that has come up in this discussion is 'equinox', which
  are those days in the year when the day is equal in length to the night.
  This obviously is very different from the solstice.

o As Rajeev wrote, the uttarAyaNa was traditionally considered more
  auspicious than the dakshiNAyana. Bhishma is famed for having postponed
  his time of death until the uttarAyaNa. Over the years, this led some 
  to believe that dying during dakshiNAyana, the southern path of the
  sun, was inauspicious and did not lead to moksha.

  This belief is cast aside in the Brahma-Sutras by the sage Badarayana,
  and all the acharyas of Vedanta, Sri Ramanuja included, write that the 
  time of death is immaterial in the case of the jnAni. In Sutras 4.2.19-20, 
  Sri Badarayana establishes that one who has knowledge of Brahman can
  die during any time; the exaltations of uttarAyaNa are merely to
  praise meditation on the path to Sri Vaikuntha known as 'archirAdi-mArga', 
  which the jnAni's jIva takes upon death.  The 'archirAdi-mArga', or
  the divine path beginning with light, is presided upon by deities of 
  greater and greater brilliance, with uttarAyaNa being one of them. This
  marga culminates in Sri Vaikuntha, the state of moksha, and should be
  meditated upon daily by the yogi.

o Sri K. Balaji has pointed out that it is important that we follow
  these astronomical events based on when they happen in *one's local
  time*. I have been arguing this for years now.  Without doing the
  appropriate calculations, they are mere ritual observances with no
  relation to reality.  Ekadasi, tirunakshatram, srAddham, upAkarma,
  etc., must all be observed with respect to local events, *not* as
  calculated in Madras.  Our acharyas in India, for the most part,
  are aware of this, which is why there are different panchangams for
  Delhi, Bangalore, and Madras.

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,


           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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