CHATURMASYA is a four months period from the middle of Ashada to the middle of the month of Kartika. It is a very auspicious time period wherein everyone irrespective of their state and stage of life (varna-ashrama dharma) undertake various vratas (vows) and upasanas. Most of the important festivals are during the chaturmasya period. Any religious activities undertaken during this period bestows immense benefits and merits on the individual.
Our one year constitutes a day for the devatas. Uttarayana, the six bright months of the year which represents the day-time for the devatas was coming to a close, and Dakshinayana, the six dark months of the year which represents the night-time for the devatas was about to start. All the devatas came to the peak of Meru where Lord Varaha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu was residing. They assembled there to take leave of the Lord and then retire during their night time. When all the devatas were offering their prostrations to the Lord, a celestial woman, dark in complexion and dressed in white came forward to offer her salutations to the Lord. She was looking very sad. The Lord enquired what the matter was. She said, “O Lord, I am RATRI DEVI, the presiding deity of Dakshinayana. I am feeling very sad because nobody likes me. All the devatas go to sleep during my regime. And there in Bhuloka, no one conducts any auspicious functions like marriage, gruhapravesha etc during Dakshinayana. Everyone considers me as inauspicious and I feel terribly neglected and dejected and do not wish to live anymore”.
The other devatas heard her plea and requested Lord Varaha to solve her problem. The All-compassionate Lord consoled her and said, “Devi, do not worry. During Dakshinayana, the four months starting from the second half of Ashada, the whole of Shravana and Bhadrapada, Aswayuja and first half of Kartika will be especially dear to me and whoever performs any noble activity whether it is snana (ablution), vrata (vows), tapa (austerity), japa (chanting the Lord’s name), dana (charity), homa (rituals) will earn immense merit. This merit will increase day by day and therefore the fourth month of Kartika will bestow maximum benefit to a person who performs meritorious deeds and hence Kartika maasa will be very special and dear to me. The merit earned during these four months will be many times more than that earned during the other months.” Hearing this, Ratri Devi was very happy. She offered her prostrations to the Lord and went away totally satisfied.
The Lord is worshipped as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha in the same order during these four months. Symbolically, the four months represent our inner spiritual journey and they stand for: Vyakulatha (intense urge to know of the Higher Truth), Sravana (Listening), Manana (Reflection) and Nidhidhyasana (Contemplation). Amongst the vratas (vows) undertaken during the Chaturmasya, “Anna Dana”(ANNA represents both ‘food’ and ‘knowledge’) is very important and is of immense benefit. Masters, Sages and Saints do not travel during the rainy season since it is not safe to cross through forests, mountains and valleys during this period because of landslides, flooded rivers, etc. Also the rainy season is the breeding season for animals and hence it is not safe to encounter the aggressive and wild animals enroute. Therefore, the Masters give up travelling during these four months and stay in one place and give discourses to the people of the village or town on the sacred scriptures.
When the Sun moves from Northern solstices to Southern solstices, there are lot of changes happening in Nature. There are significant changes due to the influence of the sun and moon on the earth and its produce which are not easily perceptible to us. Similarly there are significant changes that happen in our physical, emotional and intellectual constitution. There are marked changes in the functioning of the digestive system, metabolic activities etc. What we take in as ‘food’ at the physical level plays a significant role in our mental constitution. This being the rainy season, vegetables, fruits and pulses become breeding ground for a variety of worms and insects outside and inside. Dairy products like milk etc are not suitable for consumption because it is the breeding season for cows. And the bacteria responsible for processing the milk into curds in this season is not suitable for our constitution. Hence four important vratas are prescribed during these four months. They pertain to our food habits. They are: shaka vrata (vegetables and some fruits are prohibited in the first month of chaturmasya), dadhi vrata (curds is prohibited during the second month), ksheera vrata (milk and milk products are prohibited during the third month) and dvidala vrata (pulses consisting of two segments are prohibited during the last and fourth month). These vratas help us largely to remain sattvic and healthy at all levels of our personality: physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual.
[PS: I request all to please forward and share these value based stories rich in our culture and tradition to elders, youth and children]
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