What does a birthday mean to you?

When you are born…you aren’t aware of it, and so it really doesn’t mean anything. You are more preoccupied with trying to understand why you have been pushed out of the ‘comfort zone’ in your mother’s womb – into a world of sensory confusion…

One year down the line, there is an awareness, a good feeling around it, but we still don’t know what it means.

During childhood, we equate birthdays with celebrations and gifts – it’s the day when parents give us stuff, when we take sweets to school and when friends come home, you cut a cake and blow out candles, and there is a lot of play and a lot of food.

Adolescence brings a different flavor to the celebration…and by the time you are in your late teens, and early twenties, the mild celebrations turn into “go-crazy” days…”it’s my birthday woohoooo!”

And then it’s usually downhill from there. Thirties – spent getting gifts from the wife and kids, forties – kind of too old for massive celebrations but we hang on nevertheless, and fifties and sixties – the ones who celebrate our birthdays have more fun that us. I am not counting people who refuse to grow up, but that’s another story.

So is this it? Are birthdays just a day to go nuts and celebrate, let one’s hair down and party? Or is there more to it?

The janma tithi, as mentioned earlier, is that time of the year when the celestial ingredients are the same as when you were born, your own personal set of inputs that led to the miracle that is you. We all are born into this world with endless possibilities and infinite potential…a blank slate. That is your moment…and that moment comes along every year.

Why not look at this as a milestone for new beginnings? A look back at how far we have come, and a recalibration to ensure that we are still on the right path?

And so many in India celebrate two birthdays. As one of my friends put it – ….Interestingly, in my family we celebrate both days. On the date of birth (Gregorian), it’s usually a cake, hang out with friends, get pampered with gifts and possibly dinner at a favorite restaurant. On the janma nakshtra, it’s more of family event. Temple visit and home cooked traditional feast served on a banana leaf is the norm.

The best of both worlds:)

So here a few things that you can try out on your next janma tithi. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this…the objective of the exercise is to connect with the spiritual aspect of your coming into being, rather than getting stuck in some sort of ritual. And so, feel free to add, modify or subtract from this list.

These are just a few things that may help make your janma tithi a more rewarding spiritual experience, where you can possibly connect to the “larger picture”…after all, don’t we all wonder why we came into this world? Maybe going back to that instant, year on year, can bring us some answers:)

Proper beginnings

Wake up before sunrise. If you know how to do it, and have the right ingredients, have a Abhyanga Snana. It is a bathing ritual which includes full body massage. In the western part of India a mixture of a variety of herbs and spices known as ubtan are combined and applied on this auspicious day whereas in the southern part of India the mixture is made of besan, oil and sandalwood.

Pray to your ishta devta. The good part in Sanatana dharma is that you can choose the devta that you like – that you feel a personal connect with. That devta (or devi) is your ishta devta. Do a small pooja once your bath is done. Nothing fancy, a heartfelt prayer works better than an elaborate ritual that you do not believe in.

Connect with the pancha bhuta – or five elements. A possible way would be to take an earthen pot with a wide mouth, fill in a layer of rice in it, and place a smaller earthen pot in it, filled with water. Float an earthen diya in the smaller pot (not a candle), and place a fresh flower in this arrangement, on the side. Light the diya and just sit with it for a few minutes…this your connection with the earth, water, fire, air and space – the pancha bhutas.

Light and maintain an akhand jyoti, or at least light a diya. An akhand jyoti is one that does not extinguish, and you can light this in the morning during your prayers, and maintain it for the day. At the least, light a diya during the morning prayer, and then again during the evening prayer around sunset.

By the way, have you wondered why we blow out candles on our birthdays? The rest of the year, we light diyas or candles – when in prayer, and in celebration. Then why blow them out on your birthday?

I did some research and found this to be an old Greek / German custom, where the candle was blown out to ward off evil spirits with the smoke. Well, doesn’t quite fit into the logical narrative of light being the metaphor for life, does it?

A lamp/source of light is known as deepa in Sanskrit. The root form of the word is deep which means ‘to shine’. The nirukta (etymology) of the word deepa can be given as दीप्यते दीपयति वा स्वं परं चेति, that which is light and enlightens others is known as Deepa…what a beautiful thought!

And so, on your janma tithi (or even on your date of birth), try to light a lamp, instead of extinguishing it. And I am not saying this because it is considered “inauspicious” or something – lighting a lamp sounds more positive and heartwarming. It is “lead me from darkness to light”, and not the other way around, after all.

शुभं करोति कल्याणं आरोग्यं धनसम्पदा । शत्रुबुद्धिर्विनाशाय दीपज्योतिर्नमोस्तु ते ॥

shubham karoti kalyanam aarogyam dhanasampada shatrubuddhirvinashaya dipajyotirnamostu te

O the flame of the lamp, I bow to you, praying for my wellbeing, health and prosperity and also to remove evil thoughts that come to me.

Setting the stage

Reflect on the year that passed. Usually, we look back and feel sad at what should have been, and happy at what managed to work out. Reflection, on the other hand, is a third-party view at your life in the past year…think of it as someone else’s life that you are looking at, and try as much as possible to leave happiness and sadness out of the process. We all have our ups and downs, and so crying over spilt milk isn’t of any use…what matters is the learnings and our progress in the journey. Just as in meditation, witness – don’t participate.

Reflect on the year ahead. Setting goals, targets, KPIs…are all for the workplace. When performing this exercise, again, look at the year ahead with a non-biased view – think of what you plan to do, and whether it will lead you further in your journey, or hinder your progress – mentally, physically and spiritually.

The objective of these exercises is to observe, and not participate. The cosmos is in the same configuration as when you were born, when you had no past, and when you had a future with immense possibility. Use this day to come back to that point – a kind of meditation with open eyes and an open mind.

Do some good. It can be donation, charity, help, teaching…anything that you can give. Today, the net result should be that the amount you give exceeds the amount you get. So, if you are in for a lot of gifts, be ready to give more that you receive. It may seem odd at first, but you will begin to enjoy it. Also, giving doesn’t only mean money. Your time to someone who needs it, your advice, guidance…anything that leaves the receiver richer than he was before interacting with you.

Seek blessings. We underestimate the power of a heartfelt blessing. Ensure you collect as many genuine blessings as possible – from your parents, (genuine) relatives, your gurus. Bow to them, touch their feet, and seek their blessing. Works wonders.

Proper endings

Do what you like best. The day is not all about reflection and blessing…engage in that one activity (or two) that make you the happiest…I for example practice yoga and karate on my birthday, since they make me happy and help me round off a beautiful day with a smile.

Say thank you. Life is a gift. For some, it is very hard, and for others, it is easier. We all have struggles, but some of us struggle more than the rest. There is always someone struggling more than you, and so your janma tithi is also an opportunity to be thankful…that you were born into your family, that they took care of you and brought you up, gave you an education and helped you to stand on your feet. Something that we take for granted…until we see someone who is less fortunate.

The Janma Tithi is an opportunity that comes every year. What we make of it, like every other opportunity, is up to us. I hope that I have been of some help, some guidance…in my own small way, I hope that I have lit a lamp in a darker corner of your mind and heart. I celebrated my birthday and my janma tithi this month, got a lot of love from those who care for me, and so this is one way I have tried to give it back. If I have made a difference, do let me know.

If not, I will continue to knock on that door.

You may not open it for a while…but then you may not keep it closed for too long:)

ज्योतिषाम् अपि तज् ज्योतिस् तमसः परम् उच्यते । 
ज्ञानं ज्ञेयं ज्ञान-गम्यं हृदि सर्वस्य धिष्ठितम् ॥ १८ ॥

jyotiṣām api taj jyotis tamasaḥ param ucyate |
jñānaṃ jñeyaṃ jñāna-gamyaṃ hṛdi sarvasya dhiṣṭhitam || 18 ||

Srimad Bhagavad Gita

The Self is the source of all light. The Self is beyond the darkness of matter and is unmanifested. The Self is knowledge, the Self is the object of knowledge, and the Self is the goal of knowledge. The Self is situated within you.