Dakshinayanam – the southern path
The sun’s movement from Cancer to Capricorn
Time exists due to the rotation of the earth on its axis and its revolution round the sun. Since everything goes in circles, time also has to go in circles. Day is followed by night and night by day, Sunday is followed by Monday and so on till another Sunday and January is followed by February and so on till we come to the end of one year. It is all cyclical. In Hinduism we also have names for each year which keep repeating after every sixty years. This year is known as Shubhakrit.
The Hindu calendar divides the year into two halves of six months each known as Uttarayanam and Dakshinayanam. The period from 14th January to 14th July is known as Uttarayanam, the Northern Path (uttara is north and ayanam is path). This is the time when the sun travels from the Tropic of Capricorn towards the Tropic of Cancer. The period from 14th July to 14th January is known as Dakshinayanam or the Southern Path (dakshina is south and ayanam is path). These dates may vary slightly in some years. This year, 2022, it falls on 16th July. Obviously, the paths we are referring to is the path of the sun which “seems” to be moving from north to south and back again.
Of course, the whole thing is an illusion created by the rotation of the earth round the sun. The sun neither rotates nor changes. We are always taught that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and that at noon it will be right over our heads. Actually, the sun always rises slightly to the north during Uttarayanam and slowly moves towards the south during Dakshinayanam. So, it’s always rising either north-east or south-east, never due east. Only those who are living exactly on the Tropic of Cancer or those who live less than 23.5 degrees above or below the equator can have the experience of the sun directly overhead at noon. This happens during the summer solstice on 21st June and winter solstice on 21st December.
We have come to the end of Uttarayanam in this year and the sun has reached the farthest limit of its journey to the north. These movements are of great importance to those who live in the northern hemisphere because all the countries in this hemisphere have passed through winter and have been enjoying the seasons known as spring and summer.
This year (2022) the sun will start its journey to the south on the 16th of July, heralding the start of Dakshinayanam. This is known as Karkata Sankranti and marks the journey of the sun into the Karkata Rashi or Cancer. The small changes in the dates are caused by the fact that Hindus follow the lunar month of twenty-eight days. Those of you, who are used to observing the path of the sun and watching sunrises and sunsets daily, will notice that there is a dramatic change of direction from this day onwards and bedrooms facing the south will start getting warmer. Hence, it is said that in the northern hemisphere it is always wise to have south-facing windows since they capture the last rays of the sun in winter and thus ensure that the room is warm in winter and cool in summer. In these six months of Dakshinayanam, the northern hemisphere goes through the three seasons of monsoon, autumn and winter. This will end on 14th January which is known as Makara Sankranti or the period of the sun’s change from Cancer to Capricorn which heralds the coming of Uttarayanam.
It is only when we start perceiving all these natural changes of the solar system that we realise that we are truly a solar-powered planet. Literally speaking our whole life revolves round the sun! In the mad rush of modern life, it is really sad that we don’t realise this supremely important fact. Whether we realise this or not the fact is that we undergo many physical and emotional changes during these yearly changes and seasons. The most important change is that in Dakshinayanam our planet starts to move in an anti-clockwise direction. This is bound to have a definite impact on our internal systems which as I said is solar-powered.
A certain type of imbalance is created in our physical and mental systems during these six months, caused by the anti-clockwise motion of our planet. In order to ward off the negativity thus created our scriptures have decreed that these months are best suited for conducting all types of rituals, yagas, pujas, fasts and festivals. The first month of Dakshinayanam is known as Shravana in which we will feel a certain amount of unevenness in the element of air in our system. This creates emotional imbalance. In order to offset this emotional imbalance which might lead to depression we find that many of our major festivals are conducted during this season.
As usual the Hindu Puranas are filled with stories that cloak great scientific truths. So, it is said that Uttarayanam is the day of the gods and Dakshinayanam is their night. So now we are slowly going towards the night of the gods. It is a well-known fact that time appears to go faster as our consciousness increases. One day is a long period to a child whereas even one year seems to spin by when we get older. The gods who are in a state of very high consciousness have a different reckoning of time. One human year is only one day for them. So Uttarayanam is their day and Dakshinayanam, their night. Uttarayanam is considered to be an auspicious period since the gods are awake and watching and ready to shower their blessings and Dakshinayanam, inauspicious for conducting certain propitious events like marriages, house warming etc. since the gods are sleeping. Marriages that take place during this period have more chances of divorce and may even prove to be infertile.
In the first four months of Dakshinayanam it is advised not to conduct marriages or important functions. These months are to be kept aside for recouping all the spiritual energy we have lost during Uttarayanam which is the time for us to involve ourselves in material types of work.
However, Dakshinayanam is best for doing any type of sadhana (spiritual practice) and hence it is known as sadhana pada. All types of meditation, yoga, pranayama or anything which is conducive to our spiritual evolution is best practised during this period. So, everyone, whether they belong to the yogic system or not, should try and spend some time in spiritual pursuits since it will yield maximum benefits.
In olden days true sannyasis were wandering ascetics. They were forbidden from staying in one place for more than a few days. This was to stop them from forming attachments to any one place or persons. The only time they were allowed to stay put in a place was during the course of these four months known as Chaturmasya which begins on 11th July and ends on 6th November. During this period, it was their duty to teach the householders all that they had learnt during their travels as well as to brush up on their reading of the Vedas and other scriptures.
The full moon day in the month of Ashada (July/August) which normally falls just before the beginning of the month of Shravana, is celebrated as Guru Purnima or Vyasa Purnima since it is the auspicious day on which the great sage Vyasa was born and he is considered as the very first Guru. So even in this practice of keeping aside special days for mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters etc. the Hindus were the first for they had a special day for Gurus or spiritual teachers long before “Teachers Day” was conceived of!! This year, 2022, Guru Purnima is on 13th July.
In the second month of Dakshinayanam known as Bhadrapada we celebrate two of our most important festivals – Ganesha Chaturthi which is dedicated to Lord Ganesha and Janmashtami which celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. In the third month of Dakshinayana known as Ashwinam, we celebrate the famous nine-day festival to Durga known as Navaratri and of course the even more important festival called Diwali.
There are seven chakras or centres of great power in our system that controls all our physical, psychic and spiritual energies. They are not physical entities but massive whorls of psychic energy that control our body, mind and emotions. They lie along the spine. Muladhara Chakra is the spiritual centre that lies just above the anus, Swadhishtana is the one between the anus and the genitals, Manipuraka corresponds to the navel, Anahata lies next to the heart, Vishuddhi at the base of the throat and Ajna at the meeting point of the two brows. Above the top of the head is the Sahasrara Chakra which is way beyond ordinary human reach. The three chakras from the Muladhara to the Anahata are all meant for survival. Those above the Anahata are the ones that open up our possibilities for spiritual expansion leading to enlightenment.
In chakra language, during the period of Dakshinayanam the journey of the mind is from the Muladhara to the Anahata chakras and in Uttarayana the journey is from the Anahata to the Ajna. What this means to the spiritual seeker and indeed to anyone who is interested in getting to the topmost rung of spirituality, is that we should combine all the forces that we have and concentrate on performing severe austerities during this period of Dakshinayanam. After our intense sadhana for six months we will be ready to accept the liberation that will come easily to us during the next six months of Uttarayanam.
Despite the minute as well as gargantuan calculations of Time made by the Hindus, we still believe that Time is only a mental concept. It exists only so long as we are bound to the things of this world through our senses. It is a concept created by the movement of our senses, the celestial bodies and our own perceptions. It is part of the illusion in which we live and which we take for real. In the consciousness of the Supreme Being there are no divisions of Time. There is only the present moment, one continuous, indivisible and indistinguishable state of existence. That is a state beyond illusion and that is the state that all our sadhana is supposed to take us.
Hari Aum Tat Sat!
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