Hindus follow lunar calendar to celebrate birthdays as per ‘tithi’ (a specific day according to the movement of the Moon) compared to date, because on the tithi day the position of stars and constellations will be the same as they were at the time the person was born. Thus, cosmic energy of the Universe would be favorable to the nature of a person on his birthday as per the tithi. Therefore on a person’s birthday, rituals that create high positive energy for his mind and body are to be performed so that he develops ability to lead a healthy life for the coming year. To know the tithi, ‘Panchang’ (a Hindu Calendar) will be checked by elders.
History of Birthday celebrations:
There is no written script available as evidence of celebrating birthdays in any of the three earlier Yugas (Satyayug, Tretayug and Dwaparyug). However, we understand from Epic stories that the day and time of a child’s birth were noted by astrologers and the horoscope was checked to predict future of the child. Few examples of such birthdays are –
1. Lord Sri Rama was born in ‘Treta’ Yuga, ‘Vilambi’ Year, ‘Vasantha’ (Spring) season, ‘Chaitra’ month, ‘Shuddha Navami’ tithi, Thursday. Rama was born in Karkataka Lagna in Abhijit Muhurat in the afternoon at12’o clock, in ‘Ayodhya’. His birth star is ‘Punarvasu’. Sri Rama’s birthday is celebrated on same tithi every year, as a festival called ‘Sri Rama Navami’.
2. Lord Sri Krishna was born in ‘Dwapara’ Yuga, ‘Shukla’ Year, ‘Varsha’ (Rainy) season, ‘Shravana’ month, ‘Bahula Ashtami’ tithi, in the mid night, in ‘Mathura’. His birthstar is ‘Rohini’. Lord Krishna’s birthday is celebrated on same tithi every year as a festival called ‘Krishnashtami/ Janmashtami’.
3. Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya was born in ‘Kali’ Yuga, 788 A.D, ‘Vasantha’ (Spring) season, ‘Vaisakha’ month, ‘Shuddha Panchami’ tithi. He was born in ‘Kalady’ village, Kerala. His birthstar is ‘Arudra’. Shankaracharya’s birthday is celebrated as ‘Shankara Jayanthi’ on same tithi every year by his disciples.
In Hindu families, the elders object wishing a person on the previous midnight of his birth date because that particular time does not have any significance with the actual time of birth. Similarly, blowing out candles is considered inauspicious on birthday, because Fire is worshipped as God by Hindus. It is also believed that by blowing out candles we are extinguishing the source of knowledge and plunging ourselves into darkness of ignorance. So, let us know the actual events of birthdays celebrated as per Hindu culture.
1. On his birthday, a person will get up early in the morning, see the rising Sun and pray (Namaskaram)
2. Before taking bath, Oil is applied by elders, on top of the head (Brahmarandhra) of the person whose birthday is being celebrated. Brahmarandhra is an invisible hole on centre of the head, which makes a passage through which life enters into the body and exits from the body. It is believed that out of seven chakras of body, ‘Sahasrara Chakra’ is on top of the head around Brahmarandra. To activate the Brahmarandhra, oil (Castor oil/Sesame oil/ Coconut oil – which are considered to produce energy) is applied, so that the cosmic energy passes through the Chakra and Brahmarandhra, and enters into the body. It is suggested to apply oil to entire body and massage for a while as this would be beneficial for maintaining health and is used therapeutically for certain disorders of the body.
3. Elders present new clothes to the person. New clothes are naturally clean and fresh, hence are preferred to visit temple seeking blessings of God.
4. The person will take head bath to wash away any dirt from the hair. This is to ensure cleanliness of entire body including hair on the head. The bath of head and body massaged with oil is called ‘Abhyangana’ bath. The person will wear new clothes.
5. Tilak (a paste of Sandalwood/ Vermilion/ Kumkum) is applied on the forehead of the birthday person. A ‘tikka’ made of rice mixed with clarified butter/ curd and vermilion is also placed on top of Tilak. The middle part of forehead in between eyebrows is a region where all the nerves of the body meet. There is ‘Ajna chakra’ at this region, which is considered to give instructions for the actions of all parts of the body. Tilak and tikka produce energy, hence applying these make the ajna chakra active.
6. Then, a spoonful concoction of cow milk + jaggery + black sesame seeds is given to the person three times. The person will turn to east and swallow the mixture (Achamanam). This will prevent any obstacles the person might face until his next birthday.
7. Next, the person is made remember the names of the 7 Chiranjivis (who never die). There is a sloka for the same –
‘अश्वत्थामाबलिर्व्यासोहनुमांश्च विभीषण: । कृपश्चपरशुरामश्च सप्तैतेचिरंजीविन:।
सप्तैतान् संस्मरेन्नित्यम् मार्कण्डेयमथाष्टमम् । जीवेद्वर्षशतम् प्राज्ञः अपमृत्यु विवर्जितः।’
‘ashwathaama balirvyaaso hanumanshcha vibhishanah krupascha parashuramashcha saptaitey chiranjivinah,
saptaitaan samsmarennityam maarkandeyathaashtamam jeevedvarshashatam praajnah apamrutyu vivarjitah’
‘Ashwathama, Mahabali, Vyasa, Hanuman, Vibhishana, Kripacharya and Parashurama – these seven never die. Remembering these seven daily will give life of Markandeya who came out of death. The person will live for hundred years and will escape from sudden death’.
8. A lit lamp is waved in front of the birthday person. This act is called ‘Aarthi’ (this word is used for light waved for human or to God)/ ‘Aukshan’ (given only to human). The Aarthi consists of a small flame that burns on a wick in ghee. The wick is placed in the center of a plate and rotated around the person, then elders will put both hands near the flame and touch the person’s forehead so that the warmth of piousness passed on to the person, as blessings are bestowed. The Aarthi makes the person develop the ability to combat obstacles in life. The positive qualities like ‘Sattva’ (soft nature) increases and the negative qualities like ‘Rajas’ (Ego) and ‘Tamas’ (Anger, Anxiety) reduces in the person. The similar vibrations present at the time of the lunar day of birth will be available as favorable vibrations to the person when Aukshan is performed.
9. The person touches the feet of all elders to seek blessings. The right hand of the person should touch the right foot of the elder, similarly for left one. Purpose is to make positive energy flow from elder’s body to the body of the person seeking blessing. Elders shower ‘Akshata’ on the head of the person. Akshata are unbroken rice grains smeared with pinch of turmeric, saffron and pinch of clarified butter. The combination of turmeric, saffron and clarified butter bring energy to the body and are considered to be auspicious, so Akshata has the capacity to attract divine consciousness. The blessing is given with a Sanskrit mantra –
‘शतमानं भवति । शतायुः । पुरुषश् शत_इन्द्रियः । आयुष्य् एव_इन्द्रिये प्रतितिष्ठति ।’
‘shathamanam bhavathi | shatayuH | puruShaH shatendriyaH | aayuShyevendriye pratitiShThati |’
Meaning – ‘May you have 100 springs in your life time, May you live for 100 years with fully functioning senses and physical body parts, to lead noble quality of life’.
10. The person would light a lamp and would pray to the Deity at home.
11. The person then goes to temple to pray to God and to seek Divine blessings. Offerings are given to God in the name of the person who is celebrating birthday. Cash (‘Dakshina’) or Clothes along with Fruits are given to the priest (‘Purohit’) to seek his blessings. The purpose of visiting temple on a birthday is to thank God for providing the opportunity to live for the year gone by, to ask forgiveness for the mistakes committed, and to pray to Him to grant happy and healthy life in the coming year.
12. He then donates (‘Daana’) clothes/ cash/ food to poor people to seek their wishes or blessings.
13. He also would feed green grass to a cow and circumambulate (‘Pradakshina’) the cow 3 times.
14. The person will distribute sweets to friends and neighbors to seek their wishes.
The Friends wish him/ her for attaining long life and prospects in life.
जन्मदिनमिदम् अयि प्रिय सखे शंतनोतु हि सर्वदा मुदम् ।।
प्रार्थयामहे भव शतायु: ईश्वर सदा त्वाम् च रक्षतु ।।
पुण्य कर्मणा कीर्तिमार्जय जीवनम् तव भवतु सार्थकम्
O dear friend! May this birthday bring auspiciousness and joy to you forever. Indeed, we all pray for your long life. May the Lord always protect you. By noble deeds, may you attain fame, and may your life be fulfilled.
15. A grand meal will be arranged for the person, family members and relatives to celebrate the birthday. This celebration is generally done to share the happiness with all well-wishers. Seeking blessings from all possible sources is the fulfillment of a birthday.
This way, Hindu culture ensures that a person gets wishes and blessings from all possible sources on his or her birthday every year. It is a day to look at the accomplishments + lessons learned of previous year, and a day to take resolution to become a better person in the following year.
While the birthdays are celebrated every year, few birthdays are considered very auspicious and are celebrated as a festival. They are performed by following some rituals inviting all relatives and friends to the function. They are ‘Shashtipurthi’, ‘Bhima Ratha Santi’, ‘Ashtipurthi (or Sahasra Chandra Darshana)’ and ‘Shatabdi’.
‘Shashtipurthi’ is completion of 60 (Shashti) years. As per Hindu calendar, there are 60 years. After completion of one full cycle of 60 years, a person will see the same year when he was born. Hence, completion of 60 years is considered to be an occasion celebrated with some rituals. Also, according to ancient scripts, a full life span of human is considered to be 120 years. Therefore, 60 is half completion of life time, a significant milestone, as the person has been half way through his/her life. Another significance of Shashtipurthi is – All the planets will be positioned in the same houses of zodiac just as they were on the same day, month, year 60 years back when the person was born.
According to following shloka from Vedas, Shashtipurthi is a must to be celebrated to bring peace for rest of the life.
‘जन्माब्दे जन्ममासेचा स्वाजन्मदिवसे तथा जन्मर्क्षे चैव कर्तव्या संधि रुग्र रथाहव्या देवालये नदीतीरे स्वगृहे वा शुभस्थले’
‘Janmaabde, Janmamaasecha Swajanmadivase tathaa, Janmarshe chaiva kartavyaa santi rugrarathaahvayaa, Devaalaye nadeeteere swagruhe vaa subhasthale’
‘The same year, month, day and tithi, either in the temple, or bank of River, at own home or any good place, as a must the ‘Ugra Ratha’ (means – harsh period) Shanthi (means – calmness) to be performed’.
In a 120 year life span, pre-sixty is a period of materialistic pursuit where the person spent all years on his education, career, marriage, children etc. The post-sixty span is to attain peace and to succeed in spiritual endeavour. According to ancient sages, the ‘Ugraradha Shanti’ is a prayer sent to the heavens to make the post-sixty span a spiritually fulfilling experience in a calm and peaceful environment. During Shashtipurthi celebration, which is to be treated as a rebirth, rituals performed at one’s birth will be repeated by priests. During the ‘Shanthi Puja’, the deity of the home, sacred Rivers, Lord Ganesha, Navagraha, Mrutyunjaya (Lord Shiva who increases lifespan), and all other Gods will be invoked. Ayushya Homam will be performed offering sacrifice to Lord Fire. Ayushya Suktam from the Yajur Veda will be recited for a long and healthy life.
During ‘Kranthi Stage’, the wedding ceremony of the person with his spouse will be performed. Renewed vows will be taken by the couple with the man tying ‘Mangalasutra’ (sacred thread) tied 3 times in the neck of spouse. This event is to start next stage of life ‘Vaanaprastha’, where the couple will fulfill their life’s mission of spiritual path, by staying together. This big event of Shashtipurthi is generally organized by the person’s children in presence of all relatives and friends. The event is celebrated to refresh the sweet memories of past life and to regain the energy to lead happy time for rest of the life.
There are other Birthday events celebrated with similar Shanthi puja, but not with wedding ceremony. ‘Bhima Ratha Santi’ is completion of 75 years. ‘Ashtipurti’ or ‘Sahasrara Chandra Darshana’ is completion of 80 years. ‘Shatabdi’ is completion of 100 years.