Tag Archives: sanatana dharma

Chaturmasya – Its Significance

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.

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Peter Padukas of Goddess Meenakshi!

Madurai, the temple city was the capital of the Pandyan kings. Though they ruled the kingdom, they considered Lord Sundareswara and Goddess Meenakshi as the Divine Rulers of the kingdom and they were only their representatives. Once a year, symbolically, the sceptre of the Goddess was received by the kings, kept with them for a day and returned back to the temple the next day. In the present times, the temple administrators go through this procedure.

Rous Peter was the collector of the temple town of Madurai from 1812-1828. The famous Meenakshi temple also was under his administration. As one who respected other religions, he went about the temple administration also with great respect and sincerity. He treated the people of other faiths with love and respect. Every day, on his way to his office, he had to cross the temple. When he came to the temple, he would get down from the horse he was riding, remove his hat and boots, offer his salutations to Sri Meenakshi and carry the boots in his hands till he crossed the temple. The people of the town started addressing him as ‘Peter Pandian’. The title ‘Pandya’ is associated with the dynasty of the great kings whose ruled in South India, with Madurai as their capital.

One night it rained very heavily. The river Vaigai was overflowing. Peter who was sleeping in his residence was woken up by the sound which was similar to the tinkling of anklets. He woke up and found a little girl, about three years old dressed in the typical silk pavada (silk long skirt or lehenga) and wearing beautiful ornaments in his room. She took hold of his hand and with the words: “Peter come, Peter come”, she almost dragged him out of his residence. The moment he came out, lighting struck his house and it collapsed. Peter was stunned. He looked back and saw the little girl running in the direction of the temple. He only heard the sound of the anklets and also noticed that she ran barefoot! 

Peter Stirrups

Peter was convinced that it was Devi Meenakshi herself who had come in the little girl’s form to save him. To express his gratitude to Goddess Meenakshi, he decided to offer something to her. Since she had come barefooted to his residence, he decided to offer to her,  a pair of golden stirrups to cover her feet. The stirrups were made of gold with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and other precious stones. The name ‘Peter’ was engraved behind the stirrups. Even to this day, during the Chithirai festival, on the panchami (fifth) day, when Goddess Meenakshi rides on her ashwa (horse) vahana, these stirrups adorn her feet. They are also known as “Peter Padukam”. 
After retirement, Peter refused to go back to England. He stayed in Madurai. His last wish was that he should be buried with his eyes facing Goddess Meenakshi. His wish was fulfilled and he was buried with his face towards the temple. 

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Mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath

Sage Narada once visited Vaikunta to have darshan of his beloved Lord Narayana and His consort Lakshmi. Pleased with his devotion, Sri Lakshmi told him to ask whatever he wanted and she would fulfill it for him. Narada had seen Lakshmi serving food to Narayana and desired to have the food (prasad) served to Narayana. Lakshmi told him that was not possible because she had promised the Lord that food offered to Him would not be given to anyone. Narada insisted saying that she had promised to give him whatever he wanted. 

Goddess Lakshmi was in a dilemma. When she was serving food the next time, she narrated everything to the Lord and asked Him for a solution. The Lord understood the situation and told Lakshmi that He would relax the restriction just for one day and she could give the naivedya prasad to Narada. Lakshmi was very happy and she gave the prasad offered to Narayana to Narada. The moment Narada partook of the prasad, he went into an ecstatic mood. He totally forgot himself and started singing and dancing. He danced his way through all the fourteen worlds and finally reached Kailasa!

Lord Shiva was surprised to see Narada in this never before intense blissful state, and enquired of him the reason for his ecstasy. Narada replied, “It is all the glory of the Mahaprasad of Lord Vishnu”. Sankara immediately asked Narada if he had brought some prasad for him. Narada said he hadn’t, but suddenly saw a small particle of the prasad still on one of his fingers. Very happily, he gave the grain of prasad to Lord Shiva and he joyously relished it. The moment Sankara partook of the prasad, he too got into an ecstatic mood and started dancing his tandava! 

All the gods were now worried. The Lord’s dance can initiate an untimely deluge. At this point of time, Uma, Shiva’s consort came along and seeing Narada and Shiva in such a joyous state, asked them for the reason. When she heard that it was the greatness of the Mahaprasad of Lord Vishnu, she felt left out and became angry that she had been deprived of the prasad. 
All the gods now rushed to Vaikunta, and narrated what had happened in Kailasa and requested Lord Vishnu to calm down Sankara and pacify Uma. Lord Vishnu came riding on his Garuda vahana. On seeing the Lord, Sankara and Narada calmed down. But Parvati was still angry. Lord Vishnu consoled her and promised her a share of His prasad. Parvati, the Mother of the universe told Vishnu that not only she should get the prasad, but the Lord should make His prasad available to all living beings and they should equally be benefited by it. Only then she would be happy and satisfied. Vishnu promised her that in future when he takes up his abode in Nilachaladham (Puri),  Parvati will also be there as Devi Bimala in the same courtyard and the naivedyam offered to him will in turn be offered first to her. Only then it will become Mahaprasad and will be distributed to everyone alike, without any distinction. 

Mahaprasad at Puri

Even to this day, after the naivedyam is offered to Lord Jagannath, it is first taken to Devi Bimala’s shrine. After it is offered to her it becomes MAHAPRASAD. Sri Jagannath temple is famous for the Mahaprasad. Every day all the devotees who reach the temple partake of the Lord’s Mahaprasad. Even to this day, neither there is a shortage of the prasad nor is there too much extra on any day, irrespective of the number of devotees reaching the temple. That is the glory of Lord Jagannath’s Mahaprasad!

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Guru Poornima

Guru Poornima is also known as Vyasa Poornima. Vyasa means ‘compiler’. It is a title given to Sage Krishna Dvaipayana because he is the one who collected all the knowledge that was available at that time and classified it into four texts called the VEDAS. Bhagavan Vyasa is also recognised as an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Vyasa’s father was Sage Parashara who represents Spiritual Knowledge (Jnana). His mother was a fisher-woman and hence she represents Activity (Karma). Her name was Matsyagandhi (fish-smelling) representing ego and ego-centric activities. By the grace of Sage Parashara, she became Sugandhi (beautiful fragrance) which stands for selfless activities. Hence Veda Vyasa is a unique combination of Adhyatma Jnana and Niskama Karma. Veda Vyasa is both, a visionary and missionary. Bhagavan Veda Vyasa’s contribution is unparalleled. He gave to us the Brahma-sutras, Vedas (Sruti – Upanishads), Bhagavad Geeta (Smriti – Mahabharata), Puranas (Srimad Bhagavatham etc.). The various Geetas, Sahasranamas and many of the Stotras which we are familiar with, are all a part of the Puranas. Bhagawan Veda Vyasa is associated with almost every branch of knowledge known to us, and therefore it is a tradition to invoke his grace and blessings before the study of any scriptural text. Hence Guru Poornima is recognised as Vyasa Poornima.

Guru Poornima is celebrated on the full-moon day in the month of Ashada. Shad means ‘to sit’. Ashada means the opposite of it – it denotes restlessness. Ashada also indicates the windy month. Even when everything is fine in our lives, there comes a stage in our life, when the mind starts to feel a sense of incompleteness, an unknown restlessness which is inexplicable. There is an inner yearning for something higher. This is the auspicious time when the Guru enters our life. There is one more interpretation. Aashada with elongated ‘Aa’. This means ‘to sit along with’. When the Guru enters one’s life, the seeker should constantly remain in tune with the Guru and his teachings. And it is in the month of Ashada that all the masters undertake the Chaturmasya Vrata wherein the Acharyas who are on the move stay in one place for the benefit of the people and initiate them into the spiritual knowledge. Hence the importance of the month of Aashada.

The word GURU is made up of GU and RU . GU means ‘ignorance’ and RU means ‘to remove’. Therefore, GURU means ‘one who removes our ignorance’. GU means ‘Gunatita’ and RU means ‘Rupatita’. Therefore GURU also means ‘one who transcended the world of forms (and names) and attributes. The two-lettered word GURU is the king among the mantras (Mantra Raja). GURU symbolises the essence of the Srutis, Smritis and Puranas. GURU is the Lord Himself who comes down to help us and guide us on the spiritual path.

On the full moon (Poornima) day, the sun and the moon are directly facing each other without the earth intervening inbetween. The light of the sun which represents Spiritual Knowledge is completely available for the moon which symbolises our mind. This sunlight (knowledge) is completely converted into moonlight (divine inner experience). Therefore, the full moon endowed with all its sixteen parts or kalas represents the All-full (Poorna) State of the Guru. The earth which is not intervening between the sun and the moon represents the transcendence of the ego. Hence the Poornima day is celebrated as Guru Poornima. On this auspicious day, we invoke the grace and blessings of the entire Guru-Sishya Parampara starting from Sri Dakshinamurthy, the Guru of all Gurus, Bhagavan Veda Vyasa, Sri Sankara Bhagavadpada, and upto our own immediate Spiritual Guru.

“The Guru’s divine form is the support in our meditation. The lotus feet of the Guru represents the altar for our upasana and worship. The Guru’s words are verily the sacred mantra. It is the Guru’s grace which bestows liberation or mukti to the seeker”  ~ Guru Gita.

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