What is Ratha Saptami? Is there any reference in our scriptures regarding its celebrations.
What is the significance keeping the Arka patram (Calotropis Gigantea i.e Erukku leaves)on the head while bathing on Ratha Saptami day?
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Magha sukla Paksha saptami is known as Ratha Saptami & is considered as the most auspicous day to worship Lord Surya.It is also believed that Surya Deva started illuminating the whole world on the Saptami Tithi and hence it is also known as "Surya Jayanti".
Bathing in Arunodaya time, "Arghya Pradana"(offering water) are considered two highly auspicious and rewarding acts on this day.
The Arunoday Snaana Mantra states:
Yada Janma krutam paapam mayaa janmasu Janmasu, Tanmey Rogam cha shokam cha Maakarihantu Saptami/ Yetatjjanmakrutam paapam yaccha janmaantaraarjitam, Manovaakkaayajam yaccha jnaataajnaatey cha ye punah/Iti Sapta vidham paapam Snaanmey Sapta Saptikey, Sapta Vyaadhi samaayuktam hara Maakari Saptami / (May the entirety of my sins accumulated in my present and previous births on account of conscious and unconscious acts or those perpetrated by my vocal or mental roots be dissolved on this Makara Saptami and may this Sacred Snaana with my earnest and heartfelt supplications and obeisances to you Surya Deva, in the form of Seven kinds of Sins and Seven types of Diseases be destroyed for ever!).
And,the "Arghya Pradana" mantra states:
Sapta Saptivaha preeta Saptaloka pradeepana, Saptami sahito Deva gruhanaarghya Divaakara/ (Divaakara! You are affectionate of riding on the chariot drwan by Seven Horses with Seven Names and bestow splendour to Seven Lokaas obviously fond of the numeral of Seven; Bhagavan! may I have the privilege of offering ‘Arghya’ on this Saptami Tithi to mark my reverence!
The significance of Ratha Saptami is given in more than one Puranas including the Brahma Purana,Varaha Purana & the Suryopakhana chapter of Bhavisya Purana.The following quote is taken from the Bhavisya Purana page:
It was on �Saptami�Tithi that Bhagavan Surya made his initial manifestation to the Universe. His original Appearance inside a Holy Egg continued and from there itself, he grew and hence was called �Martaanda�. He was wedded to the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, called Sanjna, and begot Dharma Raja, Vaivasvata and Yamuna Devi. But since Sanjna was unable to bear the heat and dazzle of Surya Deva, created from her shadow a similar substitute, called Chhaya Devi to proxy her and left for Uttarakuru Desha to perform Tapasya in the form of as a horse.
Meanwhile, Chhaya Devi gave birth to Shaneswara and Devi Tapati, but aftersome time, Chhaya Devi�s partial attitude to her own children and those of Sanjna came to be noticed; Yama Dharma pointed out to Chhaya Devi about the differential treatment and in course of the argument, Yama raised his right leg�s ankle which was objected to by Chhaya and she gave a curse to Yama that if his feet ankles were placed on Earth they would be eaten by worms! As Dharma Raja complained to Surya Deva, the father assuaged the feelings of his son, who was in fact a specimen of virtue, saying that the �shaap�of Sandhya Devi was not to be too harmful since, after all, worms might take away the flesh and blood of his ankle to Bhuloka but feet would be in tact any way. Sandhya was frightened and blurted the truth to Surya Deva that Sanjna materialised her to deputise her and the latter left to her father�s place; Daksha told Surya Deva that Sanjna could not withstand his heat and had been performing Tapasya in the form of a horse at Uttarakuru. Surya requested Vishwakarma to reduce his heat and radiance and after assuming the forms of a horse approached Sanjna and by the mutual contact of the noses of Surya and Sanjana in horse forms were born Ashvini Kumars and Raivata. Since the Episode of Sanjna and Surya occurred on Sapta Tithi of Magha Shukla Paksha as above, the day is considered as most auspicious to signify the union the Couple. Those who perform the Saptami Vrata of Bhagavan Surya by keeping fast on Shashthi, the previous day as well as on that day till the dusk time, perform formal Puja on Saptami, give away a good food with penty of Vegetables to Brahmanas along with Vastras, dakshina and gifts, and break the fast with the food observing silence during the night would be eligible to the fulfillment of desires, victory, and even Kingship. King Kuru observed this Vrata for several years at Kurukshetra on Magha Saptami and attained fulfillment of all desires
Regarding the importance of worshiping Surya with Arka:
Every Deities have certain favorite flowers and certain prohibited flowers not to be used in their pujas.Arka is probably a favorite flower of Surya but i have not found anything proving that fact.
However, Lord Shiva is said to be very fond of this Arka flower :
Chaturnaam Pushpa Jaateenaam G andhamaaghraati Shankarah, Arkasya Karaveerasya Bi lvasya Vakulasya cha/ ( Shankara Maha Deva is fond of the Sugandha of Arka, Karaveera, Bilwa and Vakula