The month of Shraāvan.
The month of festivals.
The month of reiterating our commitment towards nature, social values and ethics.
The month of expressing gratitude to whosoever has been a help to us to lead a beautiful and healthy life.
The month of working hard on the fields and trusting God for His help and blessings.
It has been raining, here in Mumbai, from last two days now. Maharashtra is drenched. But Karnataka and Kerala are facing the fury of nature. As per Madhav Gadgil, an eminent environmentalist, it was inevitable to happen in Kerala and he had warned the state anout this a few years back. As always our leaders and the bureaucracy have ignored his warning and the people are paying for this devastation. Our heart reaches out to the people in distress. India stands with them forever. We are all one and their sufferings are our sufferings too.
So today have decided to write upon a topic which enlightens our way, the Vedic way of expressing ones gratitude to Nature. We believe that God resides in everything. Rather it is the will and wish of God, that He created us, the non living and the living. We both co-exist. We believe (even science today believes) that we have come from the non-living. Science believes that there is ‘chetan’ (atoms) in everything and we believe that there is ‘chaitanya'(God) in everything. The Theory of evolution as suggested by Darwin has already been proposed many thousand years back by us in the form of 10 avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu. So with this broad outlook we will look into 2 festivals which we celebrated last week. 15th August, Wednesday was Nāag Panchami (नाग पंचमी) and 17th August, Friday was Shitala Saptami (शीतला सप्तमी). In between these two days, we Gujarati’s, celebrate Randhan Chhath (रांधण छठ्ठ). Let us understand them one by one.
Naag Panchami is a festival celebrated to worship the Serpents. The serpents are representatives of the reptile world. As civilisation thrived, we had to cut down forests to make big towns and cities to accommodate more and more people. We knowingly had to drive out the reptiles from their natural habitats. As these reptiles cannot speak and express their emotions to us, for a few time they must have resisted but after finding their fight futile, they sacrificed their homes and went deeper into the jungles. Our Seers had a great intellect and an emotional heart. They felt that we need to express our gratitude to this class of animals who are sacrificing their abode for Humans. So they inculcated this practise of celebrating Naag Panchami. My readers, our festivals have a divine but human outlook, which we need to understand and not laugh upon. The westerners may call us the land of magic and serpents, but we are far more ahead in our understanding about nature than them. We need to develop our own attitude and understandings about all our festivals.
The next day is Randhan Chaatth. It is the day of cooking the best delicacies possible and yeah at the same time, the ones which we can savour the next day. The women of the household start the preparations early morning itself. At some villages in Saurashtra, the women get together to cook. They sing and enjoy this whole process. Some households also offer this food as Prasad to the Annapoorna. This festival (It cannot be called a festival as it is more a gathering) of cooking is always awaited during the year.
The next day is Shitla Saptami. It is the day of non cooking. Food prepared yesterday is savoured today. Some of my readers may feel it unhygenic. But frankly we all love cold food. Especially many foods like Khichadi and foods made from spices tastes great when eaten, the next day after preparation. But it is unhygenic and unhealthy to eat it. So our Seers have kept one day in the whole year when we can satisfy our urge to eat food cooked overnight through this festival. People who regularly eat canned foods need to understand the healthiness inherent in daily cooked food.
In the morning, the lady of the household, wakes up early and worships the stove. They make a swastik with red vermilion and put a twig of a mango tree over it as an offering. The mango signifies sweetness and it is said that it imparts coolness. She prays to the stove to help her cook food which will be sweet to eat and impart coolness to the digestive system of the one who eats it. Apart from this, it is also a way of expressing our gratitude to the stove who burns the whole year for giving us food. This whole day, the stove is not lit. In our way, we would say that’s it’s a holiday for the stove.
Also it is day to worship Goddess Shitla, the Goddess of cleanliness and health. Goddess Shitala is represented as a young maiden crowned with a winnowing-fan, riding a donkey, holding a short broom (either to spread or dust off germs) and a pot full of pulses (the viruses) or cold water (a healing tool). Sometimes, she is said to be carrying a bunch of neem leaves, a herb used throughout India since ancient times that is believed by some to be an effective remedy to most skin diseases to this day. And so even today in India we keep neem leaves around the patient suffering from Chicken pox. And after 5/7 days, parents take their kids for a darshan of Shitla Mata and worship Her and thank Her for curing the child of the disease. (Medicines are administered regularly, but it is a matter of faith and gratitude towards nature). On this day, we are expected to offer our gratitude to the broom and every other object which helps to keep our food and surroundings clean. Some people do worship the broom and the winnow on this day.
Just yesterday was a Tuesday. Shraāvan Tuesdays hold a different connotation for the newly married women of Maharashtra, especially amongst the women of Konkan. It is the day of “Mangala Gaur Pujan”. It is also known as “Sharavan Mangala Gaur Pujan”. The newly wed girl comes back to stay with her parents for the month of Asaādh. Then on one of the Shraāvan Tuesdays, this puja is performed. The puja is for her well being. Women play the whole night after the puja. It’s a time for the women of the family to come together and celebrate. After this puja, the girl can now return to her in-laws. This puja is done for 5 years. The next 4 puja’s are performed at the in-laws place itself. At the end of the 5th year, the girl gifts her mother a pot full of cereals.
Today is Putrada Ekadashi. A day of initiation of the Pushti Sampradaay. It is said that the first “Brahma Sambandh” (understanding of relationship with God, oneness with God) was given by Lord Shrinathji to Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya, today. Mahaprabhuji is an epitome of devotion. He was instructed by the Lord to give Brahma Sambandh to all those who had swayed in their path towards divinity and wanted to come back to the Lord. He worked all his life to make Humanity understand it’s relation with God. Even today the “Brahma Sambandh” is given by his descendents to the devotees. By accepting the above relation, one’s life becomes God centric. This understanding has to be developed gradually in one’s life till the realisation of relation. Namaskaars to Mahaprabhuji on this great day!
Today is also the Eid. The day of Supreme sacrifice. The day to sacrifice the one which we love the most for Allah. The day to earn His Grace. I pray to Allah to grant us this understanding to lead a life that He would like His children to live. Wish you all a very Happy Eid!
The above festivals maybe small in stature as compared to others but they all have their own understanding to convey. If the thought behind the festival is understood, then the thought of environment conservation, social responsibilities and family unity will be passed on to many generations without any hindrance. I urge my readers to give this a thought and try to find out the meaning behind the other festivals being celebrated in and around you.
Let us understand one thing. We cannot see nor foretell future. Nor do we have that imagination. So let us adore and follow what our great Seers have gifted us and try to find the meaning in it and lead a meaningful life!