Ratha Sapthami – the day the Sun turned
The day on which the sun turned northwards to greet Bheeshma so that he could breathe his last, has aptly come down across millennia by the name “Ratha Sapthami”.
Sun in India is expressed as travelling across the skies in a chariot, ratha.
Sun depicted as a chariot
Uttarayana is the day the Sun turns northward in its journey.
The day this chariot turned northward during Bheeshma’s times, according to Mahabharata text, was on Sapthami i.e., the 7th phase of the moon. Hence, the momentous Uttarayana that was awaited by Bheeshma is also known as “Ratha Sapthami”, the Sapthami of the Sun’s Ratha, chariot.
Ratha Sapthami – The Day Dedicated to a Great Warrior
Another perspective comes from a different angle, that of the character of Bheeshma.
This 7th day of moon, Sapthami, was the last day in the life of Bheeshma – an elderly, wise, righteous and brave warrior of all times, who stood by his vow of safeguarding his kingdom. To keep the memory of this compelling personage, a Maha Ratha, alive across generations, through the land, this Sapthami probably came to be called Ratha Sapthami, the Sapthami of Bheeshma a great Ratha, hero, warrior.
Bheeshma breathed his last on the day after Ratha Sapthami, which day is commemorated as Bheeshma Ashtami, “Ashtami” meaning the 8th phase of the moon.
More on this in our book, Historical Krishna.