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Friday, August 16, 2013

The month of Sawan

The temple nestled in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by trees. It had drawn me from the very first day of my visit to the small hill town. On my morning walk I would stop at the temple , do ‘darshan ‘of the deities and after receiving ‘prasad’ from the priest, leave-smiling my farewell to the couple of regulars. Today was different.There was a steady stream of devotees, mostly girls and women, all carrying ‘pooja thalis’ and small milk urns. I asked the temple priest the reason for the sudden surge in activity  . He smiled and said, “ beti, today is the first day of the month of shravan”.  I nodded understandingly and said, “ so the activity is only for today?” He tut tutted  and said, “no, it is the holiest month of the hindu calendar year, dotted with  festivals and ceremonies and each day of the month has a significance and ritual behind it. The devotees throng the temples the whole month.”  Well, till now I had thought I knew all about sawan- the month of dark, swirling clouds , lashing rain and hot tea but  it now seemed I was a babe in the woods where shravan was concerned  and so I said, “ I would like to know more”. The priest smiled approvingly and sat on the ground on a woven mat, indicating that I too should do so . Some women who had been standing nearby also sat down.
The priest started,”                       
the month of Shravan is the fifth month of the hindu calendar, beginning from chaitra, and is the most auspicious month of the chaturmas. The nandadeep (24 hour lamp) burns steadily in the temples.  During the course of the month the star 'Shravan' rules the sky, hence the month is called Shravan. The legend says that when the churning of oceans - Samudra Manthan - took place in the month of Shravan, fourteen different types of rubies came out. Thirteen of these were distributed amongst the demons. Lord Shiva drank the  fourteenth, Halahal (poison) and stored it in his throat.( Hence the name Neelkantha -meaning blue throat- is attributed to Shiva.)To negate the strong effect of poison, Lord Shiva wore the crescent moon on his head and the pantheon of hindu Gods started offering the Ganga water to Lord Shiva . Since, this happened in the month of Shravana,  the Shiva devotees still offer  Ganga water in this month.” Just then a girl came upto him and said,” where are the ‘bel ‘leaves ?” The priest excused himself , only to return with a basket full of leaves .The girl bend down and  carefully chose some leaves. I looked at the priest enquiringly. He said, “ today is Monday, also called Shravani Somvar. It is a day for the worship of Lord Shiva .In Shiva temples the Dharanatra hangs over the Shiv-ling ,for 'abhishek',ie to bathe it with milk and holy water.The Shiv-ling is worshipped by offering Bel leaves and flowers,while chanting the Shiva mantra.Devotees observe a fast till sunset. By observing all such Shravan Somvar,the worship of the whole year is supposed to be complete. It is supposed to bring luck to an unmarried girl in the form of a good husband.” “ You said all the days of the week are significant in this month. Please tell me about the other days,” a young mother, her baby nestling in her lap ,said.  By now the priest was well into the groove , noticeably happy with the attentive audience.” Well, after Shiv somvar comes shravan tuesday- the day women worship Mata Gauri for the good health of their family; wednesday is  dedicated to Vitthal,a form of Vishnu; thursday to the worship of Buddha and Guru (teacher); friday to the worship of Mata Lakshmi and Tulsi . (Worshipping Goddess Laxmi during Shravan month is highly auspicious because the whole month is dedicated to the divine couple, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi.  As the eight forces of the world, known as Ashta Lakshmi – primeval force (Aadi Laxmi), wealth (Dhana Lakshmi), courage (Dhairya Laxmi or Veera Lakshmi), wisdom (Vidhya Laksmi), Children or family development (Santana Laxmi), success (Viajaya Lakshmi), food (Dhanya Laxmi) and strength (Gaja Lakshmi) are dedicated to Goddess Laksmi . The Puranas intone that observing Vara Laksmi Vratham will bless a woman with all eight energies for life); Shravan Saturday to the planet,Saturn (Shani).This day is known as Sampat Shanivar (wealth saturday); on shravan  sundays the Sun God is worshipped”. Here, the priest got up to give ‘prasad’ to a prosperous looking couple. An elderly lady, who had been sitting quiet till now said ,” there are some things that are of special importance during this month and bring immense benefits. We should recite the  Shiv Chalisa and the shiv ‘aarti’; chant the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra; wear rudraksh ; fast on Mondays; make an offering of ‘panchamrit’(milk, yoghurt,  pure ghee/ butter, honey and jaggery) on Shiva Ling and then distribute the prasad ; end the fast in the evening by eating vegetarian food .”  I asked her , “ which  festivals fall in this month?” She  rattled off ,” Naga Panchami,Kalkayavatara, Putradaikadashi, Hindola, Narali Purnima, Shravani Purnima, Raksha Bandhan, Vara Lakshami Vrata , Sitala Saptami , Janmashtami ,Ajaikadasi ,Teej…” I couldn’t control myself at this point and interrupted her to ask,”  but who has the time to observe all these festivals?” The lady said, “ in our times sawan was the month when married women would go to their parental house.  Daughters-in-law would go to their mothers house for teej and come back after Rakshabandhan. This had a two fold benefit –the women folk could enjoy all the festivities and  also get respite from their daily grind. Traditional families still follow this custom.” The young mother said,” tell me more about Teej”. The priest had come back by now and he took over. “ the festival of ‘Teej’,is also called the ‘Sawan Festival’, because it comes with the the arrival of the rains and ends the  long summer season. Married women pray to goddess Parvati for the well being of their husband. It is a joyous occasion ,with women and girls dressing up in traditional costumes.The reigning color for the day is green .Henna is applied on hands, ‘solah shingar’ is done, swings are put up and special Teej songs are sung . Since no festival is complete without food-a mention of Teej delicacies is a must. Ghevar and churma is a given on this festival.  There are three types of Teej : Hariyali Teej which falls in the Shukla Paksha of the  month and is celebrated at the beginning of the monsoon season. On this day, women wear green colored clothes and worship the  moon, and   Radha –krishna. Then comes Kajari Teej which is celebrated in the dark half (Krishna Paksha) of the  month .  Women sing devotional songs and gather near a neem tree and worship it. Hartalika Teej  is  the most important and is celebrated for three days . On the second day women keep a ‘ Nirjal’ fast  for the   long life and prosperity of their husband.”
I thanked the priest and rose to my feet. The mention of ‘ghevar’ and ‘churma’ had opened a floodgate of memories buried under the debris called eking out an existence . But it was evening when I rang the number.” What, you are coming home?” “yes, ma, I am coming home. Didn’t you always say that all girls come home in the month of shravan for teej?” 

Om Namah Shivai

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