Write up by : Raghunandana Sharma & Hunsur Sriprasad
The period when the sun starts moving northward from the Topic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer is called uttaraayaNa. The opposite period when the sun moves southward is called dakshiNaayaNa. According to our shAstras, one human year corresponds to one day for the celestials; uttaraayaNa is their daytime and dakshiNaayaNa the night. This “night” begins with AshADha shukla EkAdashi (the eleventh day in the bright half of the lunar month of AshADha).
Once, on the eve of dakshiNaayaNa, the celestials assembled on the peaks of Mountain Meru and prayed to the Upendra form of Lord ViShNu. When the Lord arrived, the celestials told Him that their “night” was approaching and sought His permission to go to their respective abodes. Then Ratri devi, the patron deity of night and dakshiNaayaNa, took on the form of a beautiful damsel and prostrated before the Lord. She pleaded with Him as follows “Lord, everybody views dakshiNaayaNa as a bad time. Nobody performs any good deeds in that period. I am universally reviled. I will undertake penance to obtain your grace. If I do not achieve my goal, I will commit suicide and end this life of infamy”. The assembled celestials concurred and pleaded her case before the Lord. The merciful Lord took pity on her and blessed her as follows, “Ratri devi, your duration consists of 3 seasons of 2 months each. Out of these, the first two seasons shall be deemed to dear to me. Within these 2 seasons consisting of four months, there shall be a hierarchy in which kArtIka shall be the dearest, followed by AshvIja, BhAdrapada and finally shrAvana. All pious and meritorious acts performed in these four months shall yield immense benefits. Due to this, people will now look forward to this time of the year, thus removing the stigma attached to you”. From then on, these fours months became special in the Hindu calendar.
The last portion of the night i.e., the one-and-half hours before sunrise, has been given a very special status by our shAstras. They decree that this is the best time for humans to wake up and start performing their prescribed religious activities like sandhyavandane, chanting of mantras etc. The beginning of this period is called ‘brAhmi mUhurta’. The same injunctions hold true for the nighttime of the celestials also. Here, their special time starts with MargashIrsha shukla EkAdashi (the eleventh day in the bright half of the lunar month of Margashira) and extends upto the end of dakshiNaayaNa. This period is called ‘dhanur maasa’ and roughly corresponds to the time when the Sun transits the zodiac sign of Dhanus or Sagittarius. It is said that the celestials wake up at this time and perform special prayers to the Lord. Our shAstras decree that during dhanur maasa, humans too should wake up at the brAhmI muhurta and perform pUja to the Lord. People failing to do so will be cursed with leprosy and dire poverty for 7 lives while those following these injunctions will be specially blessed with health, wealth, happiness and the good fortune of being a pious VaishNavite in all seven lives. It should be remembered that puja to the Lord should be performed every single day during the dhanur maasa.
People should attempt to complete the puja to the Lord before sunrise. All other activities like sandhya vandane, tarpaNa to Rishis, celestials and ancestors that one performs as part of the puja routine should be taken up after the puja has been completed. Timing is so critical that the shastras rate the quality of the puja based on when it completes. Puja that finishes when the stars are still twinkling is deemed to be the highest quality. Puja that finishes after the stars have vanished, but before sunrise, is deemed to be medium, whereas puja that finishes after sunrise is inferior. Puja performed in the afternoon is practically useless.
“Smruti muktAvaLi” the reference work and authority for rituals says “yathaa sankOchya satkarma bhunktElpa dvaadashIdinE | tathaa praatardhanurmaasE kRutvaa karmaarchayEchCha maam “ meaning that just as one curtails rituals on a saadhana dvaadashi so as to be able to partake the meal within the prescribed time, one should curtail rituals during dhanur maasa so as to finish the puja before sunrise. However, there is one important difference. During saadhana dvaadashi the emphasis is on completing the puja and the meal on time, whereas here it is only on finishing the puja before sunrise and not the meal.
One of the highlights of the dhanur maasa puja is the special offering of mudganna (called as Huggi or pongal in south indian languages) as naivedya to the Lord. This dish uses Greengram (Moong daal or hesaru beLe) and rice as the primary ingredients. ShAstras rate the naivedya based on the proportion of Green gram to rice in the mudganna. The naivedya is rated as Supreme if the ratio (of greengram to rice) is 2:1. It is Good if 1:1, medium if 1:2 and low if I:4 or higher. People should endeavour to prepare mudganna to the best of their ability and financial status, taking care to keep the quantity of Greengram to be at least half (if not more) of the quantity of rice used. It is said that Shachi devi, the wife of Indra, offered such Supreme mudganna mixed with ginger to the Lord and got rid of her troubles.
If possible, people should prepare mudganna using Curds (yoghurt), Jaggery and ginger, offer it to the Lord and then serve it to deserving brahmins. After completion of the puja one should recite the bhadralakshmi stuti as follows:
लक्ष्मी द्वादशनाम स्तॊत्र
श्रीदॆवि प्रथम नाम द्वितीयममृतॊद्भवा ।
तृतीयम् कमला प्रॊक्ता चतुर्थम् लॊकसुंदरी ।
पंचमम् विष्णुपत्नीति षष्ठम् श्रीवैष्णवीति च ।
सप्तमं तु वरारॊहा अष्टमम् हरिवल्लभा ।
नवमम् शार्ङणी प्रॊक्ता दशमम् दॆवदॆविका ।
ऎकादशम् महालक्ष्मीर्द्वादशम् लॊकसुंदरी ।
श्री पद्मकमला मुकुंदमहिषी लक्ष्मीस्त्रिलॊकॆश्वरि ।
माक्षीराब्धिसुतारविंद जननी विद्यासरॊजात्मिका ।
सर्वाभीष्टफलप्रदॆति सततम् नामानियॆ द्वादश ।
प्रातः शुद्धतराः पठंति सततम् सर्वाल्लभतॆ शुभान् ।
भद्रलक्ष्मीस्तवम् नित्यम् पुण्य मॆतच्छुत्भावहम् ।
कालॆ स्नात्वापि कावॆर्याम् जप श्री वक्षसन्निधौ
As stated earlier, all other daily rituals like tarpana to the celestials, Rushis, ancestors, sandhyavandane, chanting of mantras etc should be undertaken after the puja is finished. Next, deserving brahmins should be fed. Once this is done, the person performing puja has 2 options – to partake the meal in the morning, or wait till afternoon and partake food after completing afternoon puja. Both options are equally popular in practice amongst orthodox madhvas.