The month of Shravan.
Every day of this month is a festival.
It is the time of reiterating our commitment towards nature and Her living as well as non-living forms
Gratitude is the core philosophy of Vedic sages. To be grateful is to be Human. This month makes us express our gratitude to whosoever, who has been a help to us to lead a beautiful and healthy life, socially and humanely.
So today we would be talking about the festivals which enlighten our way and are 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. (It will need a blog wholly dedicated to this talk.)
So with this broad outlook we will look into 3 festivals which we celebrated during the last 3 days. Nag Panchami (नाग पंचमी) and Shitala Saptami (शीतला सप्तमी). In between these two days, we celebrate Randhan Chhath (रांधण छठ्ठ). Let us understand them one by one.
Nag Panchami is a festival celebrated to worship the Serpents. The serpents are representatives of the reptile world. As human 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, they just left. 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 Sages 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 Nag 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.
Also there have been many studies about the Nag people. They are considered as the sons of Sage Kashyap, the father of Indian soil, from whom Kashmir has got its name. We also need to study those Nag people, who some say were Brahmins but were driven out of Kashmir. This part of our history has been deliberately kept out of the reach of common people so that the connect between India and Kashmir cannot be established and we keep on believing that it has been a Muslim majority state. But readers many a new research is shedding light on the work of Sage Kashyap in today what is called Kashmir. But again will leave it upto you, my readers, those interested to look further and research and read.
The next day is Randhan Chaatth. A day of cooking. A day of putting all the culinary skills to work and cook the best food possible. A day when one cooks from Morning to Evening. It is the day of cooking the best delicacies possible and yeah at the same time in away that one can savour the next day. The women of the household start the preparations early morning itself. In some villages of Saurashtra, Gujarat, the women get together to cook. They sing devotional and folk songs and enjoy this whole process. The households offer this food as Prasad to Devi Annapoorna – the Goddess of Nutrition.
Also the diet of Indian people has been very simple. Being an agrarian economy, people are always on their fields working hard to survive, and for the survival of the human civilisation. Their diet is simple, of jowar, bajra chappati with jaggery or green chillies or rice with curry. This may be incorporated so that people may atleast for one day savour the various delicacies available in their homeland.
Also Ayurveda does not allow to eat food cooked the day before. Rather our households are such that we do not even eat food cooked in the morning. So eating it the next day is a dream. Man is more attracted towards things he cannot do or is not allowed. So our Sages must have kept a day to eat food cooked a day before. In the modern world, it’s a holiday in the kitchen for the wonenfolk. Whatever may be the reason, but frankly many people wait for this day.
The next day is Shitla Saptami. It is the day of non cooking. Food prepared the day before is savoured on this day. Some of my readers may feel it is unhygenic to do so. 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 everyday. So our Sages 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 quotient of healthiness inherent in daily cooked food.
In the morning, the lady of the household, wakes up early and worships the stove. They pray to the Agni (Fire) and Annapoorna Devi. 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 healthy to eat and impart health to 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 cooked 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 Shitala, 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 out or dust off germs) and a pot full of pulses (the viruses) or cold water (a healing tool). Sometimes, she is shown 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 of the skin diseases to this day. 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 Shitala Mata and worship Her and thank Her for curing the child of the disease. (Medicines are administered regularly, but at the same time 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.
These days are of showers. Showers heavy and light keep the atmosphere clean and cool. The combination of the showers and these festivals are like a combination of lime and jaggery. They are good for health and taste both.
On these days,
Let us learn to inculcate a feeling of gratitude towards even the smallest of the things which make out lives healthy and better.
Let us learn to keep our surroundings clean and keep ourselves clean and healthy, free from diseases.
Let us know our ancestors and their vision and their efforts to keep us civilised.