Article: Raghunandana Sharma . Translated By: Hunsur Sriprasad
Hindu religion and culture is a collection of many traditions and good practices. It abounds with a variety of festivals, rituals, conventions and sacred days. Even though the practices related to individual festivals and rituals may differ, the central theme running through all of them is pleasing the Lord. The Puranas are the main source of information for the various injunctions and restrictions that govern these religious practices and rituals. Sri KrishnAchArya has performed a tremendous service to all virtuous people by collecting details of various religious practices from puranas and other sources and compiling them into an excellent work called “Smruti MuktAvali”. We have extracted from it portions pertaining to ChAturmAsya, supplemented it with facts from other sources and presented it in the form of a Question & Answer session for the convenience of enthusiastic believers..
1) Which is the period designated by the term ‘ChAturmAsya”?
In the VarAha purAna, while describing the ChAturmAsya to DharaNi devi, Sri Varaha swamy defines it as follows “aadya syaachChraavaNO maasO nabhsyOtha dvitiyIyakah tRutIyashchaashvinO maasashchaturthah kaartIkah smRutah”. Accordingly, chAturmAsya comprises of the Hindu lunar months of ShrAvana, bhAdrapada, Ashvayuja and kArthIka.
2) When should chAturmAsya be observed?
The relevant quote for this is “AShADE dashamIm shuklAm Arabhyam syAttukArthikE, paurNamAsI tAvadidam chAturmAsya vratAdikam”. This means that chAturmAsya should be observed from the Shukla dashami of AshAda (the tenth day in the bright half of AshAda) to kArthIka paurNami (full moon day in the month of Karthika).
3) Is there any reason for observing this vrata (ritual) in this period?
In the month of Ashada the sun enters kaTaka (Cancer) sun sign. Ashada shukla ekAdashi (the eleventh day in the bright half of AshAda) is significant because this represents nighttime for celestials and divine beings. Even though Lord Janardhana is not subject to physical needs like hunger, thirst or sleep, He still pretends to fall asleep at this time and closes His eyes. This is called yoga-nidra (a type of divine slumber). This continues till kArtIka shukla dvAdashi (the twelfth day in the bright half of kArtIka) when He gets from yoga-nidra. Thus, when the Lord is in yoga-nidra it behoves us to set aside our mundane activities and participate in special religious pursuits.
4) Who are the people who should observe this vrata? Is there any restriction?
The relevant quote for this is “brAhmanah kshatriyO vaishyah striyah shUdroh vratI tatha, gruhIvanasthah kuTIchO bahUdah parahamsakah”. This means that there is no exception whatsoever; the vrata is applicable to people belonging to all the four varnas (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and ShUdrah) as well as all the four Ashramas (brahmachAri or young bachelor, gruhastha or householder, vAnaprastha and sanyasa or asceticism). This includes women and shUdras also.
5) What is the benefit accruing by observing this vrata? And what happens if one does not observe?
As stated earlier, the main purpose of all vratas or rituals is pleasing the Lord. The benefits of this are beyond one’s imagination. The bhagavata asks “kim alabhyate bhagavati prasanne shrIniketane?” (what is not obtainable when the Lord is pleased? Nothing! In other words, when the Lord is pleased all our wishes and desires come true). However, just to give one an idea, the shAstras say that observing chAturmAsya confers ten million times more puNya (merit) than other rituals observed in Vaishaka and other months.
Not observing the vrata is equivalent to piercing a thorn into the Lord’s chest, eating beef, drinking alcohol and eating worms! Apart from these, no other sin gets attached to us!!
6) O My God. In that case, can you please provide more details about the observance of this vrata?
Certainly. Even though the actions that have to be performed and the ones that can be performed are quite voluminous in nature, we are providing a simple list of actions that are being observed in our Matha. These are as follows:
On Ashada shukla ekadashi (called shayanI ekadashi) one should get tapta-mudra-dhAraNe. This refers to the act of getting the divine symbols stamped on one’s body.
People not accepting tapta-mudra-dhAraNe are not eligible for performing the duties prescribed for them in shruti-smruti (Vedas and other authored scriptures). As stated earlier, everybody should accept tapta-mudra-dhAraNe on Ashada shukla ekadashi. If this is not possible for reasons beyond human control, then one should strive to accept tapta-mudra-dhAraNe at least once during the chAturmAsya.
ShAkha vrata: Shastra asks us to avoid 10 types of vegetables (any plant based food). These are leaves, flowers, stems, branches, roots, buds, sesame flour, sprouts, aNabe (a type of mushroom) and uddu (Urad dal / Black gram). These items and their derivatives should be avoided while preparing naivedya to the Lord. Only food that has been offered as naivedya should be consumed. The period for observing ShAkha vrata is from Ashada shukla dashami to ShrAvana shukla dashami.
dadhi vrata:This should be observed from ShrAvana shukla dashami to bhAdrapada shukla dashami. During this period, curds (yoghurt) should not be used in any form or manner while preparing naivedya. However, buttermilk, a derivative of curds, is allowed.
kshIra vrata:This should be observed from bhAdrapada shukla dashami to Ashvayuja (AshvIja) shukla dashami. During this period, milk should not be used in any form or manner while preparing naivedya. This restriction includes milk derivatives like kene (cream of milk), cheese or other dairy products, but excludes curds or yoghurt.
dvidaLa vrata:This should be observed from Ashvayuja shukla dashami to kArtIka shukla dashami. During this period, one should avoid dvidaLas and bahu-bIja vegetables. DvidaLa refers to any seed or vegetable which when broken or fried splits into two halves. Examples of such items are coconuts, puTAni (split channa dal), baTani (green peas), togari (toor dAl / yellow split peas), kaDale (channa dal / Bengal gram)and so on. Bahu-bIja refers to any fruit or vegetable that contains multiple seeds and is covered by an external skin. Examples of such items are apples, grapes, pomegranate, cucumber and so on.
As stated earlier, viewing an ascetic who is observing chAturmAsya is very beneficial. Since there are many mAdhva maThas and the ascetics belonging to them observe chAturmAsya in different places, it should not be very difficult to locate an ascetic who is close by. So, one should make a sincere effort to visit an ascetic who is observing chAturmAsya and get his blessings.
These are the mandatory practices that have to be followed while observing chAturmAsya. In addition, one can also perform certain optional rituals during this time. If they are done with the sole intention of pleasing the Lord, they can yield immense benefits. These are:
7) If rituals performed during chAturmAsya yield so many benefits, it should be okay to perform marriages and other social functions, right?
Not at all. On the contrary, they should be avoided as much as possible. There is a reference to this in the SkAnda purANa where Brahma says the following to other celestials, “When the Lord is in Yoganidra, one should not perform auspicious functions like marriage, upanayana etc. Auspicious functions done during this time due to ignorance, can trigger catastrophic events like death or injury. When the auspicious and benevolent glances of the Lord do not fall on an auspicious event, how can it produce good results? Definitely not”. In the same purANa, there are other injunctions too like not preparing rangavalli (powder used for drawing ornamental lines for decorative purposes) or planting fresh tulasi plants during chAturmAsya. All such preparatory activities should be done in advance.
8) What are the activities to be performed at the end of chAturmAsya?
One should fast on kArtIka shuddha Ekadashi. On dvAdashi one should perform pooja to an icon of Lord Lakshmi Damodara in the prescribed manner. Later, this icon should be donated to a married brahmin, preferably one well versed in shAstras. The following mantra should be chanted during the pooja “deva deva, jagannAtha, lakshmI dAmodara prabhO. ChAturmAsyE tvayajnaptah, krutvA vrata chatuShTayam. BhavannmUrtim pradasyAmi tvat prasAdAbhikAnkshaya”. (“O Lord Lakshmi Damodara, I have observed the chAturmasya vrata as directed by you. Now, I am completing the vrata by donating your icon, with the sole intention of obtaining your compassion and munificence”.
Later, one should feed brahmins to the best of one’s ability and offer sufficient dakshina. Finally, one should submit all the merits earned by observing the vrata to Lord Krishna.
9) What are the special events happening in the Raghavendra swamigala maTha during chAturmAsya?
The day-to-day functioning of the maTha is in accordance with the principles outlined above. The venerable swamijis temporarily suspend their travels on AshAdha krishna trayodashi and reside in Mantralaya. The other points to be noted in connection with the observance of chAturmAsya in Rayara matha are as follows:
In addition to observing the stipulations governing chAturmAsya, the swAmijis also accord very high importance to gnAna kArya (spreading of knowledge). They invite learned scholars from different parts of the country to come to Mantralaya and provide discourses on spiritual and philosophical topics; they usually cover topics from Sri Ramayana, MahabhArata, BhAgavata, the works of Acharya Madhva and so on. Additionally, the swamijis also conduct classes on shAstra for virtuous people who are interested. The maTha arranges for the boarding and lodging of people coming for such lessons.
Sage ShukAchArya brought Bhagavatha to mankind using ParIkshita as the pretext. The maTha follows this noble tradition and arranges for discourses on Bhagavata by experienced scholars when the occasion for ProshTapadi bhAgavata arises.
Aradhanes of the following great ascetics from the Raghavendra swAmigala maTha fall within the chAturmAsya period – Sri Jaya tIrtharu (also known as TeekakrutpAdaru or TeekarAyaru or), Sri Raghavendra gurusarvabhoumaru, Sri SugnAnEndra tIrtharu, Sri mAdhava tIrtharu, Sri SukrutEndra tIrtharu and Sri SumatIndra tIrtharu. In addition, punyadinas (memorial days) are observed for the following great souls – Sri IbharAmpura Appavaru, Sri vyAsa tattvagnaru, Sri JagannAtha dAsaru and Sri Vijaya dAsaru.
Many festivals are observed during chAturmAsya. The most prominent ones amongst them are Sri KrishnAshTami (also known as JanmAshTami or GokulAshTami), Sri Ganesha chaturthi (Vinayak Chaturthi), Sri Anantha Chaturdashi, SharannavarAtri, Vijayadashami, Deepavali (Diwali), Sri Rama Pattabhisheka (coronation of Lord Rama), Sri Vishnu prabhodotsava.
As stated earlier, swamijis of Rayara maTha temporarily suspend their travels at the beginning of the chAturmAsya. During the period of chAturmAsya they do not cross the border of the city or town that they are staying in. At the end of the period, on BhAdrapada pourNima the swamijis submit their observance of the vrata to Sri Moola rAmadevaru through Sri Raghavendra swamy & Bharatiramana MukhyaprAna. They then go to a nearby holy place and complete the vrata. This is called Seemollanghana. In the Rayara maTha, the swamijis usually visit the Hanumanta icon consecrated by Sri Bhuvanendra tIrtha. This completes the observance of chAturmAsya in Rayara maTha.
The above facts have been provided for the convenience of enthusiastic people who want to observe the vrata. If this article motivates other people to make a sincere effort to try to observe the vrata, our efforts in putting this article together would have borne fruit.