1. The word solstice is derived from Latin: Sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). It is the day (June 21) when the sun appears to stand still before tracing its path back across the sky.
2. The solstice is associated with the astrological sign of Cancer, symbolised by the crab. Like the crustacean, the year walks backwards with progressively shorter days after the solstice.
3. The ancient world worshipped different deities on this day.
- The ancient Greeks marked the summer solstice as the year’s first day, and held festivals to celebrate Cronus, the god of the harvest.
- The ancient Chinese honoured the earth, femininity and the force known as yin. Winter solstice rituals were devoted to the heavens, masculinity and yang.
Many ancient monuments are believed to be aligned to the movement of the sun.
- At Stonehenge in England, the first rays of the rising mid-summer sun shine into the centre of the monument.
- At the Great Pyramids in Egypt, if you stand in front of the Sphinx, you can see the summer solstice sun setting exactly between the two Great Pyramids.
- At Cave No. 26 in Ajanta, the statue of the seated Buddha is lit up by the earliest rays of the rising sun on this day.
“A lot of children are born nine months after midsummer in Sweden,” said Swedish ethnologist and author Jan-Öjvind Swahn. Swedish traditions include dancing around a Maypole—sometimes viewed as a phallic symbol—and feasting on herring and copious amounts of vodka.6.
Other planets too have summer solstices, although seasons are hardly what they are on Earth.Venus last witnessed it on April 1 and Mars on December 16. Jupiter witnessed it in May 2000, Saturn in 1987, Uranus in 1943 and Neptune in 1921. Pluto is too far away for us to know what its seasons are.
(This story appears in the 12 July, 2013 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)