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19. 11. 2018
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There are certain vows and religious observances whose frequency is not yearly but weekly or even twelve yearly or not fixed. Given below are the details of some such significant fasts/vows and observances.

Kumbha Parva

Kumbha means a pitcher or a water pot. In the beginning of the creation, the gods under the curse of Rishi Durvasa, were defeated and turned out of their abode heaven by t;he Durvasa. They went to Vishnu and sought his help. He advised them to churn the ocean for Amrit of elixir. When the Amrit Kumbha (pitcher of nectar) appeared, there ensued scramble between the gods and the demons and some of its contents splashed out and fell at four places.

These four places are Hardwar or Haridwar, Prayaga (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nasik. Now Kumbha Parva or Mela is held every 12 year in rotation at these places. It is called Purana Kumbha, and the one held every six years, after the full ones, is called the Ardha Kumbha (half Kumbha. At Hardwar), it lasts for about a month and half in Phalguna-Chaitra, when the sun passes to Aries, and Jupiter, is in Aquarius. At Prayag it is held in Magh (January-February), when Jupiter is in Aries, and the sun and the; moon in Capricorn. The Ujjain Kumbha is held in Kartika (October-November), when these planets are in Libra, It is held on the banks of the River Shipra. At Nasik it is held on the banks of Godawari, in Shravana (July-August), when these planets are in Cancer. These Kumbha melas terminate with the final bath on the new moon day.

Kumbha Fair is the most magnificerit bathing festival ever held in the world. Millions of people, which include saints, sanyasis, rishi- munis, priests, naga sadhus, mahants and milling crowds from all parts of the country, participate in it. Sometimes, the rush of devotees is so unmanageable that in spite of great preparations for several months ahead, there is a stampede, and the result is a mass tragedy. In the recent Kumbha Fair, held at Hariclwar on March-April 1986, at least 100 pilgrims died and scores were injured. And it was not for the first time. The toll was much larger in 1795, when 500 persons died and it was the largest in 1760 when as many as 18,000 pilgrims are said to have perished.

Because the Jupiter, the Sun and the Moon had helped in protecting the Amrit Kumbha from being snatched by the demons, the position of these three planets determine the principal bathing days. During Kumbha Fairs, there are continuous recitation and reading of scriptures, Epics and Puranas. There are religious discourses; food, clothes, money and other gifts are given liberally to the needy, saints and sadhus. There are endless processions of mahantas in richly decorated swinging palanquins, of ash-smeared naga (naked) sadhus in endless file, and others with their matted locks, either dangling lose around their heads or tied into a high knot above. A holy dip during Kumbha Parva is highly meritorius, as it destroys all sins. The ancient Hindu scriptures wax eloquent in praise of these fairs. These reflect the true soul of India, the glory and greatness that India was, and still is, and the living faith enshrined in the hearts of millions and millions of Hindus.

The Eclipse (Grahan)

The time of eclipse is an occasion when the devotees take bath in Ganga or other sacred streams, pools or tanks and observe piety and devotion. They offer libations to the souls of their departed ancestors and offer water to the Sun and the Moon. At Kurukshetra, the place of the famous Mahabharata war, people in thousands gather to have a holy dip in the sacred pool. It was here that Lord Kirshna delivered the message of Gita to Aijuna.

A bath taken during the eclipse, and the charities and devotion practised on this occasion purify the mind and soul of the aspirants. All other activities are suspended during an eclipse; cows, money, clothes, grains, etc. are given in charity to the poor and needy, brahmins and others. Japa and Kirtans are done, and the mantras or holy formulae are repeated to tap the subtle forces contained in them. Until and unless the sun and the moon are clear, neither food nor water is taken.

The eclipse again takes us back to the baginning of creation. When the milky ocean was being churned to obtain nectar. The churning went on until finally god Dhanvantari appeared carrying a pitcher full of nectar. It cheered all the gods and demons. But then, the demons stole the nectar-jar. Whereupon. Vishnu fooled them with an illusion. Assuming the form of a beautiful woman or Mohini, Vishnu took the jar and the cup from the Daityas and Danavas and gave it to the gods. At this, Indra and other gods drank the nectar and became immortal and invincible. The gods then defeated the demons and regained their lost heaven. The demons then fled and entered the nether world.

But in the mean while, Rahu, the cause of eclipse, assumed a disguise, and insuniating himself amongst deities, drank some of the nectar. The Sun and the Moon detected it and informed Vishnu, wjj0 cut off his head and two of his arms with his discus, but, as he had already drunk the nectar, he did not die. Thus, his head came to be known as Rahu, and the trunk as Ketu. He wreaks vengeance on the sun and the moon for his betrayal, and swallows them, and thus causes the eclipse. He rushes from the moon to the sun, and then back again from the sun to the moon to swallow them. He had four hands and his lower part ended in a tail.

On the occasion of the eclipse, the widows, the sadhuS) mendicants and recluses observe strict fast; the people in general are prohibited from sleeping, going to the toilet and touching the image of a deity. Bhajan, kirtan, jap, meditation, recitation of scriptures bathing, charity, libation to the dead ancestors, etc. are highly recommended during the eclipse.

Mal-Maas (Additional Month)

Mal-maas is also called Adhikmas or Purushottam-mas. It is an inter-calated 13th month. The month in which the sun does not move from one position or sign into the other, is called Mal-maas. It occurs after every 32 months, 15 days and 4 ghatis. And the moon in which the sun passes into another signs or positions twice is known as kshaya-mas. First it occurs after 141 years and then after 19 years.

During Mal-mas religious ceremonies are prohibited. The fasts observed and the charities practised during Mal-mas are said to be highly meritorius. They destroy sins. During Mal-mas, daily ghee, grains and jaggery should be given to the brahmins in charity. in Mal-mas marriages are not performed, but libations and obations are specially offered tQk the dead ancestors and Pretas (ghosts). When Mal-mas occurs ei*lier in the month of Vaishakha, or Jyaishtha or Ashad, it is con^^ed to be inauspicious. In Chaitra, it is neither auspicious nor if>ai*spicious. In the rest of the months it is always good. During *nas a grand fair is held at Rajgriha, once the capital of Maga^3-* in Bihar. According to Purnas at this time 33 crore gods and g^dctesses descend here and it turns the place into the most sacred place a"d centre of pilgrimage on the earth.

Satyanarayana Vrata

This Vratacar* be observed either on Sankranti, Ekadashi or Amavasya or Pu^nr**asi- But in northern India, it is generally observed on the full moonda> (Puranmasi) of every month. Satyanarayana or Satyadeva means ^ Lord of Truth, and it is another name of Vishnu. The merits obtaiCed by observing this Vrata are many. It destroys all sins and evils, insures peace of mind, bliss, prosperity, happy relations, healthtruthfulness. In the Kaliyuga, worship of Lord Satyanarayana ^ devotion, is like the veritable wishfulfilling cow. There are many iCter^sting legends in connection with the observance of this fast.

Once Devshi Narada happened to visit the earth, the Mrityuloka. He Very much distressed to find the people there in misery, ill healthanc* poverty. He wanted to relieve the sufferings of the mankind, bulcollld not find out any way. He went to Satyaloka and told all abc111 to Bhagwan Satyanarayana. Lord Narayana advised Narada 0 go on the earth again to tell the people to observe Satyanarayana ft'1 ori the day of Purnima or Ekadashi, Amavasya or Sankranti. Their*v'ls, sins and suffering would vanish instantly and prosperity, happiness and bliss would be their sure lot, the Lord told Narada.

Narada i to the earth and preached the message of Satyanarayana A,(ata- People did accordingly. They observed strict fast, lisetened to1*16 story of Satyanarayana, sang his praises and mediated on hirt anc* had all their desires fulfilled.

On this ausfc'is day, the aspirants should get up early in the morning, aftettaking bath they should pray and worship Suryanarayana f^ all, and thereafter invoke Satyanarayana. They should make a small pavilion with plaintan trunks, flowers leaves, etc. and install therein an image or picture of Satyanarayana. Then, the Lord should be ritually worshipped wih camphor, fruits, lamps, incense, water, naivedya, betel leaf, etc. aid the story of the vrata should be heard from a Brahmin. The Brahnin should be given gifts of grain, fruit, sweets, money, etc. and then prasad should be distributed. And finally in the afternoon tie fast should be broken.

There is another story which very leautifully underlines the spiritual significance of observing a vows n this day. There was a very poor Brahmin. He lived on alms and spent his days in misery. One day Lord Satyanarayana took pity, ani appeared before him in the guise of a Pandit or learned Brahmii- Lord ordained him to observe the Satyanarayana Vrata. The nex day was Puranmasi. He prepared a simple prasad of baked floir and sugar, and after worshipping Narayana with full devotion and faith, distributed the prasad, and partook of it and prospered.

On the next Puranmasi, he celebrated the fast on a grand scale. A poor wood-cutter chanced to pass by his house. The poor wood¬cutter heard the Satyanarayana katha, aP the prasad, and being inspired, observed the vow himself along vith his wife and children, with complete devotion and piety proper for the occasion. Consequently, he became very rich, enjoy id all the joys of life and after death attained the blissful abode of Lord Hari, the Satyaloka.

Satyanarayana vrata is the easiest and most inexpensive way of self-purification and self-surrender at the Ictus feet of Hari. One who observes it with full devotion and faith is sure to attain his heart's desire. Such a celebration creates healthy and pure vibrations and purges the heart of all dross and evils.

Pradosha Vrata

Pradosha means the dusk of the early night or evening tide. This vow is observed in the evening twilight, and so it is called Pradosha Vrata. It is observed on the 13th day of each lunar fortnight. It is practised to propitiate Lord Shiva, in oider to obtain his blessings and boons leading to fulfilment of one's cherished desires and spiritual upliftment. The evening tide, when the sun sets and the night approaches, is the best time to worship Sftiva.

A thing practised at an opportune moment is likely to bear the best possible results. That is why there is so much emphasis on observing rituals, ceremonies, vows etc, on a given day at a given hour. Our seers have ordained Pradosha vow to be practised in the evening, because it is most efficacious then. The gods themselves approached Lord Shiva in the most propitious moments of Pradosha to seek succour in the hour of distress, when they were being harassed and tormented by the Danavas and Daityas. And they were quite successful in achieving Mahadeva's favours and blessings.

As aspirant should get up early at dawn on Pradosha day, and having finished his daily and regular ablutions, etc., he should invoke Shiva and meditate on him. On that day he should not eat anything. Then, again at time of Pradosha, he should bathe and purify and put on clean clothes and sit for ritual worship in a sanctified place. He should sit preferable on a seat of kusha grass, facing east, but never facing west or south. Then, he should offer shodashopachar puja (16 acts of homage) to Shiva with seasonal flowers, bel leaves, fruit, lamp, incense, etc.

To offer even one such puja Pradosha equals scores of other pujas in merit. To light even a single ghee lamp at such auspicious moments, is highly rewarding. Along with Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh, Kartikeya and the Nandi Bull are also worshipped and Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is repeated 108 times. The priest and Brahmin should be given clothes, grains, a pitcher and money at the conclusion of the ceremony. In breaking the fast only light meal, consisting of fruits, curds, sweets, etc. should be taken. Night vigil should be kept and Pradosha-stotra from the Skanda Purana should be read and recited.

This fast is highly praised by the Puranas, and is of great religious merit. Those who practice it with unflinching faith and devotion are bound to possess wealth, health, happiness and peace of mind. When Pradosha falls on either Monday, Saturday or Sunday, it become all the more propitious.

Somvar Vrata

Somvar (Monday) fast is observed to propitiate Shiva and Parvati. The fast is terminated in the late afternoon and either fruits are taken or food eaten, but only once. The 'Panchakshara Mantra. "Om Namah Shivaya" should be repeated oni this day. This japa is highly rewarding. Some people observe it comtinuously for sixteen Mondays, and then terminate with elaborate ritual and ceremony. The gift of a cow with its calf given to Brahmin on this occasion, is regarded highly meritorious.

During the Chaitra month, Somvar vows are observed to please Jagannath, the Lord of Universe. Generally a person who has been at least once to Jagannathpuri, is entitled to observe such a vow, but even if any one of the members of his family hais been on a pilgrimage of Jagannath, can undertake it. Lord Jagannath is ritually worshipped in the late afternoon and naivedya offered. After the ritual, prashad is distributed and dan-dakshina is given to the priest, and only then food is taken.

Mangalvar Vrata

It is a popular fast, and is observed to propitiate Mahavir Hanuman, who rendered great service to Lord Rama. He acted as his spy and fought most valiantly. He helped in restoring Lakshmana to life by bringing medicinal herbs from the Himalayas. He accompanied Rama to Ayodhya and there he received from him the boon of perpetual life and youth. There is no other deity so helpful in time of difficulty.

On this day strict fast is kept, and Hanuman is worshipped with sweets and fruits and Hanuman Chalisa is read and recited. A coat of vermilion mixed in ghee is also applied on this day on the idols of Hanuman. After puja, prashad of sweets is distributed and only then fast is broken. Only one meal is taken on this day and that too without salt at all. On Tuesday, fairs are held at many places near the Hanuman shrines. From Mangalvar vrata flows success, happiness, strength, both physical and moral, quick recovery from illness. It also helps in overcoming the enemies.

Shukravar Vrata

This vow is observed in many forms and for many benefits. It may be observed for the propitiation of the planet. Shukra and to ensure longevity of the son, peace of mind and harmony in the family. It is also observed in the honour of goddess of wealth Lakshmi.

Lakshmi is worshipped with white flowers, white raiments and naivedya prepared with ghee and sugar. In Bhavishya Purana, this vow is described in detail. Now-a-days, it is a very popular fast, and is generally observed by the ladies to please the goddess Santoshi Mata. Santoshi Ma is another form of Parvati or Durga. Durga is thousand-named. She is Das Bhuja, ten armed; Singha-Vahini, rides a lion; Mahisha-mardini, destroyer of demon Mahisha; Kali, the black; Kanyakumari, the youthful virgin; Ambika, the mother; Sarvamangla, always auspicious; and so on.

As the Shakti or female energy or Shiva, she is both fierce and mild. As Santoshi Ma she is mild and ever auspicious. On this day, strict fast is observed and jagaran is done during night, and devotees sing her praises and glories in an assembly to the tune of music. In the morning, prashad is distributed after final worship. Some devotees go to Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu, after observing the vow of Friday. But it depends on one's inclination, means and capacity. Santoshi Mata vrata can be observed individually without much show and external exhibition. A vrata is actually a matter of faith and devotion and hardly requires any exhibitionism.


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