CHENNAI: The root of man's unhappiness is his ego, which makes him blind to his spiritual nature. Instead of realising that he is the Self (Atman), which is blissful and eternal, he identifies with his body-mind-intellect personality and attributes their limitations to himself and thus does not experience his true blissful nature. Spiritual evolution thus involves getting rid of the ego so that the Self will shine in its true splendour.

In his discourse, Swami Vimurtananda said the rituals of the three-day Pongal festival (Sankranti) had immense spiritual significance. The first day, Bhogi, is celebrated in honour of Indra, for seeking all material benefits in proper measure (in the form of rain). The Bhagavata Purana narrates the episode of Lord Krishna humbling Indra during His childhood in Gokul. Indra had become conceited that all in the world had to pay obeisance to him for securing material well being. So the Lord, who is the ultimate benefactor of all, decided to teach him a lesson. He instructed the cowherd community to worship the cows, priests and the Govardhana mountain, which provided the bounties of nature to them.

Indra was naturally angry and in order to teach them a lesson he unleashed torrential rain. It rained as though it was the great deluge at the time of dissolution. To protect His kinsmen Krishna lifted the mountain effortlessly with the little finger of His left hand and the entire community took refuge under it till Indra spent all his fury. Humbled, Indra extolled Krishna, who graced him and dedicated the festival of Bhogi to him. The following day Pongal signifies the securing of bliss after the ego is removed (union with God) and the third day is dedicated to the worship of all living creatures for fostering harmonious coexistence of man with nature. Thus all the three orders of existence (celestials, God and living beings) are worshipped during this festival.

Sankranti also marks the beginning of the Sun's northward journey heralding the spring season. It is a transition - a turning point from materiality to spirituality in human life - in which nature shows the way to spiritual transformation. The Sun is worshipped in the Vedic tradition with the Gayatri mantra as the visible manifestation of the Supreme Being. This mantra by itself is capable of liberating man from bondage.