This festival was Litha for the Germans, Alban Heruin for the Celts. For many centuries it was a festival of great importance to paganism and ancient people. Litha means fire and represents the heyday of the energy, the end of darkness and sterility. It is the beginning of the most fertile age, where everything gets renewed.
It was a time to celebrate the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the waning year. The celebration of this festival is as old as humanity itself. It was a time of purification, where women used to jump on the bonfire or the cauldron.
The ancient Greeks defined this event as a gateway to another dimension. Many other cultures have celebrated and continue to celebrate this cosmic phenomenon. The Sun is a principle of life and the continuity of existence. It is the first divinity with which humanity identified.
In Celtic culture, the Druids celebrated the ritual of Alban Heruin. It consisted of lighting bonfires to seek blessing for the lands and their fruits.
In Mexico, the Aztec warriors dedicate many rituals to the solar cult. The Incas of Peru celebrate the Inti-Raymi, the festival of the Sun. The tradition of this millennial festival is still celebrated in many places. In all, the customs are very similar. They coincide in lighting purifying bonfires or worshiping the Sun. In some places, it is also complemented with baths at dawn, like a baptismal ritual.
Although other deities now have more predominance, the cult of Suria still appears. Proof of this are the temples dedicated to it such as the Dakshinaarka temple on the side of the Ganges. There is Suriyanar Kovil in South India, Arasavalli, and Konark on the east coast of India. There is also Modhera in Gujarat, Surya Pahar in Assam and Unao in Madhya Pradesh.
All have survived the years and the different beliefs of each era. Several temples dedicated to Shiva still have a small altar for Surya in Tamil Nadu. Some get arranged in such a way that they illuminate the rays of the sun in some determined days. In the South, there are still surviving names, such as Surya Tírtham or Surya Pushkarini.
There are texts that relate that in the 7th century AD there were many devotees in Multan in Pakistan. There is a temple dedicated to Suria, which still exists in ruins. There is another near Srinagar in Kashmir, in the city of Martanda.
Solar temples got known in times past as Aditya Grihas. In the west of India, a solar cult existed. But differences existed between the Greek and Hindu solar worship. Devotees believe that Suria is able to cure infertility.
In India, the New Moon in May gets celebrated as a day of Vat Savitri or the rising Sun. Savitr is a solar deity of the Rigveda. He is sometimes identified and even distinguished with Surya, the Sun. Savitr disappeared as an independent deity of the pantheon after the end of the Vedic period. In modern Hinduism, its name appears in the Gayatri mantra taken from the third book of the Rigveda.
Sun in its threefold aspect of a deity benefits, vivifies and nourishes. In his praise get invoked beautiful Vedic hymns, being the king of the dawn and the sunset. There was a religious syncretism between the mysterious religions. It got linked to the fertility and worship of the sun and moon (sometimes symbol of the mother goddess).
Agni, Indra, and Surya were more powerful than other deities. So, they became a triad that was very popular and venerated in the Vedic Age. The attributes of these three deities are very similar, although with different nuances.
Savitri became a symbol of the inevitable cycle of love and loss.
This festival is particularly celebrated in Maharashtra by married women as Vat Purnima. They pray for the health of their husbands and for the happiness of their family life. They also fast for three days, before returning to the nearest temple or banyan tree. They carry a basket loaded with offerings like rice, mango, and bananas. They sprinkle the banyan with sacred water and then listen to a priest tell them the story of Savitri.
After that, they go to the Banyan to pray and unroll a string while going around the tree. They placing red pigment and kumkum, on its bark, tying ribbons to its branches. Then the parikrama takes place by turning seven times around the object of devotion.
In temples, women, dressed in their finest saris, throng with their arms full of offerings. On Vat Purnima day, married women get up early and prepare themselves as perfect wives. They wear new saris, mangal sutra, a kind of pendant women receive on their day of marriage. They also wear glass bracelets, bindi between the eyes, and flowers in the hair.