Shravan month – the most religious of all months

The month of Shravan is the fifth month of the Hindu calendar beginning from Chaitra [that starts in April], and is the most auspicious month of the Chaturmas. Astrologically, it is a month of devotion, offering oblations to deities and celebrating mantra, yantra and tantra in holy rejoices! The month of Shravan begins with Shiva pujan and mercury planet rises in the east. We call it Budha-margi. On the Shravani-Purnima or full moon day, or during the course of the month the constellation of the stars [nakshattara] ‘Shravan' rules the sky, hence the month is called ‘Shravana’. This month is spread out with innumerably religious festivals and ceremonies and almost all the days of this month are auspiciously religious in one form or another. Most Hindus all over the world bath at the dawn in the sea and the holy rivers to invoke the blessings of the rising sun and the dawn god to be united in yoga, all-togetherness worship, devotion and rites and rituals congregating the three worlds together.

Naag-Panchami: One of the first main important day is the Naag-Panchami which falls on the fifth day of Shravan and is held in honour of Nagas or snakes. Hindus idolize snakes and regard them with veneration on the Naaga-panchmi (the fifth day of the bright cycle of the moon of the month of ‘Shravana’). This may be due to their association with the Gods. For example, Shesha-naag or Ananta-naag, the thousand hooded king of all serpents forms the residing lap for Lord Vishnu to rest in stillness in peace and harmony. The King of poisonous cobra serpents VaSukaye adorns the neck of Lord Shiva forming a crest over the Lord [this is a boon of Mother Serpent to Shiva – the immortal timeless cosmic God that transcends on to the Himalayan slopes to transform the mountains and rivers into holy shrine of the Naagas.

Even this very day Naagas can be seen to be dancing on the icy slopes of the mountains on the shravani poornima [the full moon day] in somewhat mysteriously human forms as if performing nattarraj or Tandav or Bharat-natyam or dance of love. No one has yet understood the mysticism of the Great Himalayan Mountains nor proven the metaphoric yet empirical and evidential. This day is dedicated to snakes and they are worshipped with milk and fruits. Snake worship is quite common especially in South India where there are shrines in many houses where the householder feed the serpents. According to Indians, the most celebrated shrine is that of Meccad of a Nambudiri house holder in Malabar. In Bengal, Mannassa-Devi is worshipped as the goddess of serpents and feast in honour of this Goddess serpent is celebrated with great austerity pomp.

To some, especially the ‘Gujurattis’, this day denotes the return of Krishna from the Yamuna after overcoming the snake Kaliya. Krishna's herdsmen celebrated the Naga panchmi day by treating Kaliya with milk as a gratitude for not harming their beloved Krishna. There is much folklore in connection with snake cult. At Sirale a fair is held on Naga panchmi when snakes are specially caught worshipped and then set free. At Vitthal in South India is the temple of Ananteshwara (Lord Eishwaar with large snake as its crest) where snakes are worshipped and appeased if anything goes wrong. Digging and ploughing is strictly forbidden and abstained to avoid harming the snakes.

To worship Naaga-Devas and to worship the sun, the dawn and the rising sun, the peepal tree and the Shiva-Lingha in the month of the ‘Shravana’ releases us from the bondages of karma, neutralises one’s vikarma [negative karma], and brings harmony into the lives of those who worship Shiva-Lingham. The worshippers of Shiva eventually recite: “BHAAJA GOVINDAM GOVINDAM GOVINDAM”. “Hari Aum Tat Sat Swaha Aum Namo Narrayanayeh” – mantra for all Shiva devotees.

It is believed from the ancient times that one who recites this mantra shall be freed from the bondages of present life karma and enters the kingdom of Gods and Goddesses [Deva-lokka]. Recite: “Hari Aum Tat Sat Swaha Aum Namo Narrayanayeh” as many times as you can but specifically it is most rewarding on the ‘shukla-ekadashi’ eleventh day of the bright cycle of the ‘Shravana’ month. Pujas may be done in accordance with one’s personal ishtha devata [personal deity]. Today, Monday July 31st is a very auspicious day for Shiva puja as it is ‘Randhan Chhath’, and the future day the Kalki-Avatar will be re-incarnated on this human earth. ‘Randhan Chhatt’ means the Surya-Narayan the Sun God becomes affluently enlightening and the energies of the Surya-mantras on this particular day are six fold. On this day, one must recite the great Gayatree mantra and the Maha-mrutyunjaya mantra in five malas mantra-mantra-manjaree.

Kalkiy-avatara: The Kalki Avatar falls on Shravan shukla (the light half) sixth. This anticipatory incarnation is also known as Nishkalankavatara (Stainless) and is yet to occur and the month and the day it will transpire and manifest has already been fore seen by the Vedic saints, Vedic Rishis, Vedic seers, and holy men of India. In the Vana-Parva of the Mahabharata, the coming Kalki has been hailed as when unrighteousness will leave and righteousness will be established. This day, though not celebrated, is noted for the future emancipation of mankind.

Putradaikadashi: (Son giving eleventh) falls on Shravan sukla (light half). King Mahijit was sonless due to which all were distressed. The King then consulted a learned sage who told him that in his previous birth the King was a Vasya merchant and had committed some deliberate wrong knowingly [vikarma]. The sage then advised the King to observe fast on this Shravan Sukla-Ekadashi day and to recite the shiva’s ‘Naryana’ mantra and the Shiva kshama prarthana [prayers].

The resultant boon by which the Surya-Narayan showered upon the King viz a viz RanDal Mata neutralised the Kings vikarma and fertilised the womb of the Queen. The King was thus blessed with a son. Hindola or Swinging: Sukla eleventh to fifteenth in North India. A swing is made and is decorated with flowers and hangings. Every night idols of Lord Krishna and Radha are placed on it and swung, rejoicing with dancing and singing of a special metre the 'hindola'. The main purpose is to please Narayana-Krishna to gain his blessings and merit.

In this month the Shravan Full Moon day is very prominent as a number of festivals ensemble on this day. Raksha-Bandhana also falls on Shravani-poornima.

Narali Purnima: On full day of this Shravan (July-August), is celebrated by worshipping the ocean with mantras and offering of coconuts into it. Hence the name Narali from 'naral' meaning coconut, the coconut day. From this day the south-west monsoon is supposed to abate, and fisher-folks resume their trade. According to some, throwing of coconuts into the sea is an offering to the "Food-giving goddess of the water" whereas others say that the offering is made to Varuna the Vedic God of Ocean.

Shravani Purnima: On this day all Brahmins renew their sacred thread which they wear. It is also called Rig-Yaju Shravani as it appears only students of Vedas would renew the cord. But, actually all Brahmans who have been initiated and wear the thread renew it. There is an elaborate ceremony where the family priest begins the function by worshipping Lord Ganesha and lights a sacrificial fire reciting mantras and prayers. Eight supari betelnuts or eight Darbha (sacrificial grass) rings are placed on a Shravani Purnima: On this day all Brahmins renew their sacred thread which they wear. It is also called Rig-Yaju Shravani as it appears only students of Vedas would renew the cord. But, actually all Brahmans who have been initiated and wear the thread renew it.

There is an elaborate ceremony where the family priest begins the function by worshipping Lord Ganesha and lights a sacrificial fire reciting mantras and prayers. Eight supari betelnuts or eight Darbha (sacrificial grass) rings are placed on a tray representing the seven Rishis and Arundhati which are worshipped with flowers etc. Again, Tarpan or libations of water in the name of the departed spirits is offered. Then the old thread is cast off in the sacrificial fire and a new thread with a three-fold twist is worn after reciting the Gayatri Mantra. Lastly follows the worship of Brahma by offering of rice and flowers in the fire and distributing of gifts to Priests and Brahmans.

Pavitraropana: Almost similar to the above, the same day Pavtiras or sacred thread ornaments which are rings, wristlets or necklets are made from strands of cotton threads of varying lengths, number of twists and knots. These strands or ornaments are then washed, consecrated with mantras and offered to different Gods like Shiva, Vishnu, the Sun and also the family priest. The best ornament is that of nine-strands with one hundred and eight twists and twenty-four knots! Some change the sacred threads or offer the sacred thread on Purnima or on the previous day according to the position of the moon at the constellation in Shravan.

Raksha Bandhana or Rakhi Purnima: Is perhaps the most sublime and sentimental of festivals which also fall on Purnima day. A Rakhi or amulet, may be of silk thread, or of more costly make according to one's means, is tied round the wrist of brothers by their sisters as a charm protecting them from evil or harm and, consequently in return seeking their help when in trouble. The Rakhi name derives from the word 'Raksha' that is to protect. It symbolizes the abiding and chaste bond of love between the brothers and the sisters. There are abounding episodes of women seeking protection for their husbands' lives even from rival heroes through Rakhi.

It is said Alexander's wife tied Rakhi on their mighty adversary Pururuvas seeking assurance of her husband's life. The great King, true to the Kshatriya tradition and word, restrained from striking the fatal blow when he saw the Rakhi on his hand.

Vara LAXSHMEE Vrata: This is a Vrata which implies the worship of Goddess of Wealth. The Vrata is observed on the Friday immediately preceding the full moon day of the month of Shravan (August-September). Maha LAXSHMEE is the embodiment of prosperity and auspiciousness. It seems the glory of this Vrata is eulogized in the Skanda Purana by Lord Shiva Himself. The worship of Maha LAXSHMEE is performed by married ladies to obtain good progeny, and for the long life of the husband. Since Mahalakshmi as Vidya LAXSHMEE bestows divine wisdom also, great prophets have worshipped her for success in their spiritual work. Rishi Panchmi: On this day of the Shravan full moon, stars other than the planets are worshipped. In Vedic times it was believed that the spirits of certain departed great sages of the earth were believed to inhabit certain stars, the most famous being the constellation Ursa Major i.e. the seven brightest stars of the north (The Great Bear). Later, the seers became identified with the stars they inhabited. The seven worshipped on Rishi Fifth are - Kasyapa, Atri, Bharadvaja, Visvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Vashishta. Rishi Panchmi (Seers fifth) is also observed on Bhadrapada sukla fifth as 'Prayaschit' or Atonement. Govatsa and Bahula: Fall on Shravan Krishna (dark) fourth day when cows and their calves are worshipped. Mainly women offer food to the cows and smear their foreheads with vermillion. Cow's footprints are drawn and worshipped by women. Sitala Saptami: Sitala (the cool one) is the goddess who is associated with disease particularly smallpox and there are many temples and shrines in her honour. One of the days she is specially worshipped is on Shravan Krishna seventh, in Gujarat.

One particular thing about her worship is that Mataji accepts the prayers and offerings of widows, if mothers, on behalf of their children. During the day of her worship one is supposed to abstain from all hot, or cooked, food and drink. The reason may be to avoid hot thing and is more likely to be the longing for cold water on the part of smallpox patients from Ayur Vedic perspective. I believe that it is something to do with the fact that ancient times, the coal was not burnt to cook food because when we cook hot food, we are meant to keep a one percent for our ‘pittree’, but on this particular night it is a night we invoke the saints and Rishis and those from the celestial or deity worlds. This day, of the Shravan month we give rest to the spiritual worlds and give them shantih mantra and shantih pathd.

Janmashtami: This well-known festival, the birthday of Lord Krishna falls on the eight day of Shravan Krishna i.e. the dark half. The day is celebrated in honour of Lord Krishna, the eighth Divine Incarnation of Hindus. A twenty-four hours fast is observed on this day which is broken only at midnight because Krishna was born at midnight. This is one of the greatest of all Hindu festivals. Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna is an important town sacred to Vaishnavas.

Spiritual gatherings are held and pilgrims from all over India flock to Mathura to participate in the festival. Due to his immeasurable roles played in this world, he is regarded as a complete manifestation of God. This divine stories and deeds are beautifully narrated in Bhagavat Purana.

Ajaikadasi: Ajaikadasi (Illusion eleventh) commemorates the story of King Harishchandra who fell upon evil days. Sage Gautama advised him to fast to obtain merit and Harishchandra following his advice overcame his evil days and regained his kingdom and family.

Pithori: Pithori is a propitiatory festival observed on the Shravan new moon i.e. Amavasya or the last day of Shravan (August-September).

The seven chief goddesses and the sixty-four yoginis or divine attendants on Goddess Durga are worshipped by un-widowed married women for gaining progeny and happiness. The name is derived from Pitha (flour), from which the images are made to worship.

It seems in Bhavishottar Puran, Parvati advises Indrani the wife of Lord Indra to observe this Vrata to be blessed with sons and good fortune. Such is the power of the Pithori vrata, told Parvati.

Pola: On Shravan new moon (amavasya) day the bullocks are worshipped and given rest. The day of this custom vary from district to district. It is chiefly a farmers' festival, held after harvesting of the staple grain of the region, which explains the variation in the date of the festival. The custom consists in bathing the animals and anoint them with out, paint their horns, garland them, decorate them and worship them by smearing with vermillion.

Almost all days of Shravan month are considered Auspicious, But, Mondays or Somvars of Shravan month are specially observed with austerity and women generally fast on this day. All Mondays are devoted to the worship of Shiva as this day is sacred to Lord Shiva. No other Mondays of other months are so greatly honoured. Tuesdays are devoted to the worship of Gauri and Fridays are for LAXSHMEE. Again Saturn is worshipped on all Shravan Saturdays, with the object of obtaining wealth and strength. These days are known as Sampat Sanivara (wealth Saturdays). Besides Saturn, Wednesdays (Mercury or Buddh) and Thursdays (Jupiter or Guruvara) are also days for worshipping Buddh and Guru. Sun worship was general in the Vedic period and even now it is so. Especially in Shravan, every Sunday the Sun is worshipped without fail. Furthermore, the moon being in the star or nakshatara Shrava, is one of the five events which occur at one time (Ardhodaya), which only happens once in twenty to twenty-five years and is considered a time of great auspiciousness.

Besides the above festivals, there is yet another religious ceremony observed by a Hindu community, viz., the Konkani speaking Saraswats and Gaud Saraswat Brahmins of the South. This ceremony is called the 'Chudi' Puja performed by Saubhagya married ladies. Every Friday and Sundays married ladies worship the Tulsi plant (Ocimum Sanctum) by offering the 'chudis' or tiny bouquets of flowers, vermillion and other puja items. It is picturesque to see the sacred Tulsi plant bedecked with pretty multicoloured tied tiny bouquets. Later the 'chudis' are offered to elderly married ladies and their blessings sough. Every woman takes pride in the month of Shravan to perform the puja and fast. All the rejoicings and gaiety and the string of festivals spread over this month is a blessing of the higher order with the air of solemnity yet divine benevolence. Be it a woman performing pujas and observing fasts, or a man changing his sacred thread on the Shravani or Povte Purnima day of Shravan, all pray alike that they may be blessed to happily participate in the Shravan ceremonies every year. Let us all together recite the maha mantra of Shravana month together once and create divine vibrations of ‘Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram’:

“Aum Karum Bindu-Sayuktamm Nittyam-Dhyayanti-Yoginaha, Kaamadam, Mokshaadam chaiva Aum Karaya namoh namah, Aum NaraYanayeh Namoh namah- Shiva Tarayeh namoh namah.”

“Aum Bhur-Bhuvah Svahr Aum Tat Savitur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi-Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayyatt.”

“Hari Aum Tat Sat swaha Aum Namoh Narayanayeh”

“Aum namoh Jagad-Amba Bhauneshvaree Mata” [the mother of all]

“Aum Namah Shivaya Hara Shivaya Namaha Aum”

“Bhaaja Govindam Govindam Govindam” [Govinda is the moola-liberating mantra for Shiva devotees].

“Hara Hara Hara Mahadeva”

Jyotikar Pattni, Monday July 31st 2006 – Dedicated to all divine devotees!