The Meaning and Significance of Vratas in Hinduism
Summary: This is a Comprehensive manual of Vratas or ritual observances of Hinduism from the Vedic period to the modern times.
Vrata (or vrat) means a rule, vow, observance, discipline, law or duty. In common usage, it is an act of devotion, duty, commitment, spiritual practice, resolve or moral or mental discipline. Its purpose is to help materially, mentally and spiritually the devotees on the path of self-transformation and liberation. In ritual terms Vrata means following or observing the law, a discipline or a strict code of conduct to please a deity, who is propitiated through it. The word Vrata (Vrta) is rooted in the Vedic concept of rta or rita, which mean order and regularity. “Vr,” means will, rule, discipline and “rta,” means order. Vrata means orderly conduct or discipline.
Thus, Vratas are meant to ensure the order and regularity of the world through self-discipline and righteous conduct. God’s rta is an expression or the result of his righteous duties (dharma). It is responsible for the orderly progression of the world and the rhythmic patterns of days and nights, years, seasons, the sun and the moon, the stars and the constellation, birth aging, death and rebirth.
Everything in the world has a rhythm or a pattern (rta) of its own. When the components of the universe work in tandem, there is life, peace, light, progresss and orderliness. When it is absent, the world falls into chaos. The order is represented by gods and the chaos and unruliness by the demons or evil beings. Rta ensures orderly progression of the world and help you know how to plan for the four phases of your life. It lets you know when the seasons arise, when the rains fall and when the fields are ready for sowing, so that you can make preparation to grow crops and reap the harvest.
When the rta is disturbed, the world will have chaos. Natural calamities, pestilence, drought, famine, untimely death, disease and the like become the order of the day. In that world, you cannot live with peace. Your mind will remain clouded by suffering and anxiety, while the world remains enveloped in evil impurities. Thus, the purpose of Vrta in its ultimate sense is to ensure the orderly progression of life upon earth and remove any obstacles in the path. When life is out of order, vrata is the means to put it back in the groove and take it in the right direction. Vrata is thus part of self-preservation and righteous progression on the path of liberation.
The purpose of vratas
Vratas are observed by people either to fulfill desires or to express gratitude for fulfillment of desires. They are also practiced to overcome suffering and adversity, neutralize the adverse effects of planets or evil forces, remove birth related defects (doshas) in the natal charts, win the approval of a wrathful deity, overcome infertility, beget children, cleanse the mind and body, express regrets as part of a penance, acquire spiritual power, help the ancestors in the heaven or a family member or child who is in distress, and so on.
Through Vratas you bring order and discipline into your life. It helps you strengthen your resolve and your commitment to your faith. It is also very useful to practice self-cleansing and train your mind and body to cultivate sattva.
Vratas and sacrifices
Traditionally, vratas are practiced mostly by married women. While Vedic sacrifices are mostly men’s affair, Vratas are predominantly performed by women in the household. It gives them an opportunity to practice their faith and help their families through personal discipline and religious observances. However, men, young girls and widows also practice several vratas as part of a religious observance, ceremony or Vedic sacrifice. Some vratas are expiatory, which are meant to neutralize past sins and transgressions (prayaschitta).
Vrata is a form of sacrifice (yajna), although not as formal or structured as the latter. For example, in the sacrifices you use a ritual altar to make offerings of food and other materials to fire and declare your allegiance to gods. You do not use idols or worship any images. In Vratas also you make offerings of food to gods, but you do not use a ritual altar. You practice puja (domestic worship) to worship the images of gods and make them offerings. Most vratas are simple, but some are complicated and require prior preparation. They may also last for a long time.
In vratas you abstain from food under self-imposed vows to declare your commitment and loyalty to the deity you worship. While a sacrifice is essentially an obligatory duty, a Vrata is a voluntary and willful act, which may or may not be obligatory for the person who practices it. However, just as the sacrifices, vratas also serve well in upholding the eternal laws (Dharma) of God and establishing divine-centered life. A vrata is also a self-sacrifice in which you are sacrificing your comfort and dependence upon food for a greater end.
Vratas in Vedic tradition
The earliest references to Vratas are found in the Vedas. In the Rigvedic period different professions followed different Vratas. There was vrata for each professional class such as carpenter, doctor, priest, ironsmith. It is possible that originally the practice of Vratas was not part of the Vedic tradition, but found its way through ascetic traditions or groups of ascetics who were collectively, and often derogatorily, mentioned as Vratyas.
The Rigveda mentions five groups of Vratyas known as Pancha Vratas. (10:34:12), who according to Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas performed a purification sacrifice called Vratya-stoma. Probably, Vedic people got the idea of Vrata from such groups and built their own tradition around it. It is also possible that the tradition might have entered Vedism through Shaivism, since Rudra is mentioned in the Vedas as Eka-Vratya. The Eka Rudriya mentions him as the lord of Vratas (Vratapati).
Whatever may be its origin, vratas are now an integral part of Hinduism. Currently, they are even more popular than the Vedic rituals, since they are more aligned to the practice of puja or the domestic worship of the images of gods and goddesses. They are currently practiced as part of Vedic rituals, festivals and sacraments such as a wedding ceremony, or independently as austerities and ritual observances. Both the approaches are currently found in Hinduism. People prefer vratas rather than Vedic rituals, for their simplicity and direct appeal.
A vrata may be observed for a day, a weak, month, year, or even for a lifetime. While the Vedic sacrifices were all about men, the vratas developed as an alternative solution to engage women in religious practice. In today’s Hinduism it is mostly women who practice vratas. The Grihyasutras prescribe vratas for the students of the Vedas as part of their learning and growing to cultivate discipline and strengthen their resolve.
In the Vedic period, people of both genders practiced vratas as part of Vedic sacrifices or as separate observances or religious practices. One of the vratas of that period, which is mentioned in the Vedas, was the Chandrayana Vrata (the lunar vrata), in which the devotee first gradually decreased their food consumption in the first half of the month and increased it in the second half. They began with fifteen mouthfuls of food on the full moon day and reduced it by a mouthful for the next fourteen days to correspond with the decreasing size of the moon. Then, starting from the new moon, they increased it by a mouthful for the next fourteen days according to the increasing size of the moon until the full moon day again.
References to the vratas are found in the Samhitas, Brahmanas and Aranyakas of all the four Vedas. There are also some references to them in the Upanishads. They point to the fact that Vedic people routinely practiced Vratas in their daily lives as part of their religious observances as householders, and later during the Vanaprastha (forest dwelling) as part of their spiritual discipline to advance on the path of liberation and prepare for the life of complete renunciation (sanyasa).
In the Vedic sense vrata means the will of a god or the conduct of a person who obeys the will of a god. The violation of that will is called apavratam (nonobservance or defiance). By obeying the law or the commands of a divinity through a proven conduct, devotees declare their loyalty and allegiance to him and win his appreciation, approval and blessings. Vratas are also practiced in Jainism as a continuing tradition from the earliest times. It is even possible that Hinduism incorporated some beliefs and practices about Vratas from Jainism, since the latter gives more prominence to fasting and austerity and prescribes them to the lay followers as part of their preparation to become full-fledged monks.
Vratas as punishment prescribed by Manu
Vratas were also used in the past as part of the penitentiary laws prescribed in the law books (Dharma Shastras) to resolve the problem of sin or evil actions. They prescribe Vratas or reformatory or expiatory observances as part of a punishment and atonement for certain offences and transgressions. Some of them were mild, but some were extremely severe. For example, Manu (Chapter 11) prescribes mild to severe penances (kriddhra and ati kriddhra vratas) as punishments to remove the sins arising from offences such as threatening or striking a Brahmana or shedding his blood. The following are a few vratas which are mentioned in the Manusrmiti
1. Kridhhra Vrata: In this vrata a twice born person has to remain on fast with a clean mind. He should eat in the morning only for three days, in the evening only for the next three days, only what is given unasked for the next three days, and observe complete fast for the last three days.”
2. Santapana Kriddhra Vrata: In this, a twice born person is allowed to subsist on the urine of cows, cow dung, milk, sour milk, clarified butter, and a boiled extraction of Kusa-grass, and fast for a day and night.
3. Ati Kriddhra Vrata: This is the severe form of Kriddhra vrata, in which the twice born person shall eat only a mouthful at each meal in the morning for three days and in the evening for the next three days, and observe complete fasting in the last three days.
4. Tapta Kriddhra Vrata: This is also prescribed for the twice born, during which he must drink hot water, hot milk, clarified butter and inhale hot air, one at a time for each set of three days, and bathe once a day with concentration.
5. Paraka Kriddhra Vrata: It is observed for twelve days to remove guilt by a person during which he must observe complete fast, fully restraining his mind and body and making no mistakes.
6. Chandrayana Vrata: This is one of the well-known lunar penances. It is observed by the householders reducing their daily food intake by one mouthful during the dark half of the month and increasing it in the same manner during the bright half, starting with 15 mouthfuls. They also have to bathe three times each day before offering the morning, mid-day and evening libations respectively.
7. Variations of Kriddhra: In one version of the lunar penance, a twice born person has to practice it by eating only eight mouthfuls of food each day at midday for a month, restraining his mind. If he observes it by eating only four mouthfuls in the morning and four mouthfuls in the night, it is called the lunar penance for children. Manu states that he who with concentrated mind eats eight mouthfuls of food each time for only three times in a whole month in whatever way he wishes attains the world of the moon after his death.
Rules and Observances
A simple vrata involves observance of a particular code of conduct, rules and restraints, or abstinence from certain habits and desires of the mind. From this perspective, the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga constitute a vrata only. Each vrata usually begins with an intention or resolve. Most cases the suggestion is made by a priest or an astrologer or a close friend, or circumstances may convince a person that a particular vrata may be needed to address some problems. Whatever may be the reasons, vratas are the most commonly suggested solutions to worldly problems in Hinduism.
During the observance of the Vrata, a devotee may fast for a specific period of time. As we have seen in case of the rules prescribed by Manu, the duration and the frequency of the fasting may vary from a day to two or more days according to the tradition and according to the vrata, which may also require the observation of other rules and restraints as part of penance or self-cleansing. One may observe it on a specific day or days in a weak, fortnight or month and repeat it for a specific number of times as suggested in the scriptures or as recommended by the priest. Hence, as we shall see later, most vratas are named after the days on which they are performed
A vrata may also be practiced as part of a sacrificial ceremony such as the rites of conception, initiation, marriage, etc. In some vratas devotees have to abstain from specific types of food or food substances, such as meat, sour things, salt, or they may have to subsist entirely upon specific foods such as milk or fruit juice. Apart from fasting and other observances, it is common for devotees to perform a puja or a devotional service with offerings and prayers.
Vratas are observed mostly at home but some may be performed in a temple or a sacred place. During its observance, devotees worship the chosen god sixteen types of ritual offerings (shodasa upachara puja). If the vrata is performed for a longer duration, devotees may have to worship the deity one or more times each day according to the prescribed procedure. Depending upon the complexity of the ritual worship and the temperament of the deity, devotees may also engage the services of a Brahmana priest for the worship. Many vratas require the devotee to give charity to Brahmanas and poor people as part of the observances
In some vratas devotees have to visit a temple or a place of pilgrim and pay respects to the deity at the beginning, middle or the end of the vrata. In some Vratas one may have to utter a mantra for a specific number of times or worship the deity in a specific manner according to the prescribed procedure. Cleanliness, ritual baths and abstaining from sex, unclean food, foul speech, and evil people are common observances for most vratas. Some vratas require the devotees to wear rudrakshas, wear a tilak or specific mystic marks on their bodies or foreheads, carry a sacred object upon their bodies, wear clothes of a specific color such as red or black, keep the beard, maintain silence, and stay away from unclean and haunted places. Some of them also require people to remain awake in the night.
A vrata is incomplete if it does not involve giving (dana) at the end of it. If a priest performs the worship, he should be adequately compensated with a suitable fee (dakshina) as agreed in advance. If guests are invited they should be served with food or snacks and treated with respect. Some vratas may require the hosts to give gifts to the visiting guests.
Charity is considered a virtue and a good karma in Hinduism, which leads to peace and happiness. Vratas facilitate it. In giving people are expected to be generous but within their means. Any charity which is voluntarily given produces happiness for the giver and the receiver. Both are benefited by it if it is done as a service to the deity. Vratas provide opportunities to people to celebrate life and give charity to needy people, Brahmanas and others. Tradition considers the following charitable gifts appropriate, cows (godana), bulls (vrishabha dana), land (bhoomi dana), house (griha dana), food (anna dana), agricultural tools (hala dana), fruit (phala dana), kitchen utensils (apaka dana), etc.
Consequences of failure
A vrata is meant to test the resolve and faith of a devotee They are part of self-cleansing and spiritual preparation. They teach us the value of sacrifice, charity, discipline, morality, the practice of dharma and virtuous conduct. The vow of a vrata cannot be taken lightly. Halfhearted observance of a Vrata may displease the gods and invite their wrath and punitive action. Those who practice vratas are therefore advised to persevere and endure until the end any hardships that may arise it.
However, unforeseen circumstances may arise which may often force people to abandon their penances in the middle. If it happens, one should consult the scripture or follow the advice of a priest or a learned person. If a vrata has been abandoned due to circumstances beyond one’s control, one may repeat it again from the beginning to the end or from where one had left. In such cases one may have to perform expiatory rites or vratas, seeking forgiveness.
If Vratas do not yield expected results, one should not lose hope. As the Bhagavadgita suggests, we have the right to actions only. The results are not in your hands since they depend upon many known and unknown factors, including your past karma. Therefore, in the event of failure, you should keep faith and not blame the deity or the priest if he officiated it. You should learn from the failure and move on with greater resolutions to stay on the path of dharma and continue the spiritual journey.
Vratas are considered beneficial in Hinduism. Apart from preparing people to deal with the hardships of life and cultivate tolerance and patience, they also lead to peace and prosperity. Fasting, which is common to most vratas, results in the lightness of the body and improvement in the digestive system as it is cleansed of the toxins. Besides, fasting keeps the body weight under control and boosts a person’s morale and esteem. Abstinence from sex for the duration of the vrata strengthen a person’s resolve and improve his confidence and mental strength. If you follow any discipline and obey the rules of conduct, it is bound to boost your morale, self-esteem and confidence. Vratas facilitate this process. In the long term, vratas help individuals to cultivate virtue and prepare for the hardships of spiritual life or the life of renunciation. Those who practice vratas experience positive emotions and feel mentally and spiritually uplifted. After the successful completion vratas, they experience improvements in their lives, actions, fate or circumstances.
In practicing vratas care must be taken to ensure that it will not lead to health problems or stress. Some people who fast for days subsisting only on water find it very difficult to regain their normal digestion at the end of it. In Northern India, may women visit doctors after the Durga Puja as they observe complete fasting for days, drinking just water. At the end of it when they try to return to normal diet, they face problems.
Types of vratas
Hindu vratas may be classified into various categories, using different criteria. The first criterial is the type of abstinence, according to which the vratas can be grouped under bodily observances (kayakia Vratas), mental observances (manas vratas) and silent observances (vachika vratas). Some Vrtas are composite, which require the observances of all the three. The second criterion is the purpose, according to which we may classify them as material (bhautika) observances which are performed for material benefits or spiritual (adhyatmika) which are meant for spiritual transformation or liberation.
The third criterion is duration, according to which vratas are one day, week days, fortnightly, monthly, and yearly. Some vratas are seasonal, while some can be performed only on specific days in a week or month. The auspicious time to perform some vratas may also depend upon the birth chart of an individual. Some vratas can be performed only after a person reaches a certain age. There are also restrictions on when one should not perform them. For example, women should not observe any vrata during menstruating period. Hence, women cannot perform certain vratas which extend for longer periods.
List of important vratas of Hinduism
Vratas are named after the deities for whom they are performed, the days on which they are meant to be performed or the purpose for which they are performed. Thus, you have Lakshmi Vrat, Gauri Vrat, Satyanarayana Vrat, Vinayaka vrat, Kedaraswami Vrat, Ananta Vrta, Saraswathi Vrat, and so on. The following is a list of important vratas which were practiced in the past. Some of them are still practiced in parts of India.
Holy Vratas mentioned in the Puranas
Ashtami Vrata: It is performed either every month on the eighth day of the bright lunar half or in the month of Bhadrapads on the eight lunar day of the dark half. If it is performed on a Wednesday when it also happens to be the eighth lunar day, it is called Budha Ashtami Vrata and considered very auspicious. Ashtami vrata is considered extremely beneficial to people who practice it since they earn great merit.
Dwadasi Vrata: As the name suggests, it is observed on the day of Dwadasi or the twelfth lunar day. If it also happens to be a Friday, it is called Sukra Dwadasi and even more auspicious. If it is performed on both Dwadasi days in the bright and dark lunar half of the month, it is called Ubhaya Dwadasi Vrata. Those who perform Dwadasu Vrata earn great merit and escape from the pains and punishments of the Hell.
Tilaka Vrata: This is routinely practiced every day in the morning by many Hindus, whether they know that it is a vrata or not. In this vrata, people wear a religious or caste mark (tilak) on their forehead and other parts of the body in white or in red. They do it as part of their family tradition, or to keep away evil spirits and influences. It is also a great way to start the day and keep up the religious fervor. Most Hindu ceremonies invariably require wearing a tilak on the forehead by both men and women as part of the ritual.
Jatismara Vrata: It is practiced to remember past lives. Hence, the name Jatismara. On the day when it is performed, devotees worship their personal or family gods and observe the vow of silence until the evening or until the moon appears.
Rasakalyani Vrata: In this vrata, devotees worship Parvathi, who was said to be the first one to perform it. During the worship, they bathe her image in clarified butter and install it with due process, before making her offerings. Those who practice it or know its significance or persuade others to practice are freed from sins and assured a permanent place in the abode of Shiva and Parvathi.
Ardranandakari Vrata: In this vrata Shiva and Parvathi are devotionally worshipped with various offerings. It is meant to fill the lives of the worshippers with peace and positive emotions (arda + Ananda). Upon the death, they are assured a place in Indra’s heaven, which is full of pleasures and happiness.
Mandarashastithee Vrata: This Vrata is mentioned in the Puranas, but we do not know how it was observed. Going by the name probably it was observed on the sixth lunar day of the bright half of the first month in the six seasons of the Vedic calendar. The Puranas warn devotees to perform it with great seriousness to avoid incurring the wrath of gods. In case of a problem, they should perform Akhanda Dwadasi Vrata and worship Vishnu to neutralize the ill effects.
Ananta Tritiya Vrata: This Vrata is performed in winter, exclusively by women. It is said that women who perform it will earn the same merit as that of performing a horse sacrifice. On the day of the Vrata married women, widows and young girls wear red, yellow and white clothes respectively and worship Vishnu. At the end of the ceremony, they honor Brahmanas with gifts and charity.
Vratas for Surya, the Sun god
Ubhaya Paksha Saptami Vrata: It is observed on the seventh lunar day (saptami) in the month of Pousha which falls in winter. During the vrata, devotees honor Surya, the sun god, under the belief that those who sincerely practice it achieve the four aims of human life. At the end of the ceremony Brahmans are rewarded with food and gifts.
Shukla Paksha Abhaya Saptami Vrata: It is celebrated on the seventh lunar day of the bright fortnight, especially in the month of Sravan. On this day, devotees worship Surya and make offering to him to qualify for a place In the realm of the Sun or Brahman.
Ananta Saptami Vrata: This Vrata is also celebrated in honor of the sun god, on the seventh day of the bright fortnight, but in the month of Bhadrapada, which is considered as rewarding as the previous one. On this occasion, devotees bathe an image of the deity in the waters of a sacred river and apply clarified butter, before worshipping it.
Bhadrapada Vratas: Apart from the above, many Vratas used to be celebrated in the past during the month of Bhadrapada in honor of the sun god, such as Kamala Saptami Shasthi, Mahasaptami, Mahalaya Saptami, etc. Of them only Saptami and Shasti Vratas are currently practiced.
Durgandha Nashaka Vrata: It is performed on the seventh day of the first bright half of the moon (Jyeshta Sukla Pakshami) which usually falls in the summer when the temperatures are high. It is meant to remove the bad odor (sickness) from the body and thereby the impurities of the mind and body. During the vrata devotees worship auspicious trees such as Shami or the banyan tree.
Hridaya Adityavaana Vrata: According to the legends Lord Rama was advised by Sage Agastya to perform this vrata in the month of Vaisakha to seek the blessings of the Surya to kill the demon, Ravana. On this day, devotees worship Sun and fast during the day until the sunset. They do so mainly to their worldly desires overcome their problems.
Mandara Shasthi Vrata: This is celebrated in the month of Margasira, on the sixth day of the bright fortnight. Devotees worship Sun with Mandara (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) flowers, seeking a good birth in the next life in a good family.
Sharkara Saptami Vrata: It is observed on the seventh lunar day in the bright fortnight of the month of Ashvini. Devotees wear white clothes and worship an image of Sun, bathing him with milk. As part of the observance, at the end of the ceremony it is obligatory to distribute sweets and food to Brahmanas.
Sarvathra Saptami Vrata: It is observed on the seventh day in the dark fortnight of the month of Margasira. On that day devotees avoid eating salt and oil, worship Sun and give alms and food to Brahmanas. Those who perform the vrata go to heaven.
Bhadrapada Shukla Paksha Vrata: It is observed by those who desire to become rich with divine help. Devotees worship sun for the purpose on the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada, on the seventh lunar day when the star Ardra appears in the night sky with the moon.
Radha Saptami Vrata: It is performed on the seventh lunar day in the month of Margasira by those who seek a good birth in the next life. Devotees worship Sun and his charioteer Aruna with devotion and give charity to the Brahmanas.
Sankranti Vrata: It is celebrated every month on 14th and 15th when Sun transitions into Makara (Capricorn) in its celestial journey and which also marks the beginning of spring in the Indian subcontinent. On this occasion sun is worshipped, which is believed to give long life and good health. Makara Sankranti, which falls on the 14th and 15th of January is celebrated as a festival for three days, especially in the South.
Rogaahari Vrata: As the name implies, it is performed to overcome sickness and bad health. The observances are very similar to the modern practice of dieting. During its performance, devotees worship Sun and subsist on a meager diet of fruit and milk. In the night, they sleep on a bare ground.
Vratas to other gods
Ananta Chaturdasi Vrata: It is observed on the 14th lunar day of the bright half of the month of Bhadrapada to propitiate the serpent deity, Ananta or Adishesha, upon whose coils Lord Vishnu rests in the heavenly abode of Vaikuntha. On the day of the vrata, devotees worship Ananta and Lord Vishnu and limit their diet to fruit and milk in the day, while in the night they eat a full meal. The vrata is meant to benefit children and fulfill worldly desires.
Bhishma Panchaka Vrata: It is observed in the bright fortnight of the month of Kartika. According to the Mahabharata, Bhshma was the first to practice it. Hence, it is named after him. On the day devotees worship Lord Vishnu and abstain from drinking alcohol, eating prohibited foods such as meat, speaking evil or unpleasant words and any bad habits such as gambling. The vrata is beneficial since it has the power to neutralize the gravest of the sins, including that of killing a Brahmana.
Ashoka Vrata: This Vrata is meant to remove sorrow. On the day devotees worship the Ashoka tree along with Varuna and Chandra who are considered gods of vegetation. The Ashoka tree is worshipped because it was in the garden of Ashoka trees (Ashoka vatika) that Ravana held Sita in captivity.
Go-pada Tritiya Vrata: It is observed on the third day of the lunar fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada when the Purva Bhadrapada star appears in the sky. On this day devotees worship cows and make offerings. The use of oil, salt and cooked food is prohibited. It guarantees the worshippers a place in Goloka or the world of Vishnu.
Go-vatsa Dwadashi Vrata: As the name suggests on this day a cow (gau) and her calf (vatsa) are worshipped, which falls on the twelfth lunar day in the dark fortnight of the month of Kartika. Devotees have to practice celibacy and sleep on the bare floor. This Vrata also ensures them a place in Goloka or the world of Vishnu.
Kukkuti Vrata: It is meant to worship Shiva and Parvathi for health and progeny and observed on the new moon day (amavasya) of the month of Bhadrapada. Worshippers are required to wear the sacred thread (Yajnopaveetha) on the day of worship.
Madhooka Tritiya Vrata: It is observed by young girls in the bright fortnight of the month of Phalguna to propitiate goddess Parvathi, seeking a virtuous and good-looking husband. On that day, they worship Madhuca (Mahua) tree.
Naga Panchami Vrata: It is observed in the month of Shravana on the fifth lunar day of dark fortnight to propitiate serpent deities. Worshippers observe a day of fasting and worship an image of a snake made of cloth. They also visit a temple or a sacred grove to offer milk to snakes. The vrata is meant to seek protection from snakes or to remove the impurity caused by a snake spell (naga dosha).
Ulka Dwadashi Vrata: It is observed in the month of Margasira on the twelfth lunar day during which Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi are propitiated to overcome disabilities such as deafness or dumbness or diseases such as leprosy.
Shanti Vrata: It is practiced in Kartika on the day of Ekadasi in the bright fortnight of the month, during which Lord Vishnu is worshipped for peace and happiness for oneself and the family. During the day people avoid eating sour preparations and cereals. Some people observe the vrata on both Ekadasis in the month.
Asunya Sayana Vrata: It is observed by married couples for a happy and harmonious married life and progeny. During a period of four months, they periodically observe fast on specific days in a week or on designated days and make offerings of sweets and fruit to their personal gods.
Aviyoga Tritiya Vrata: It is also observed for conjugal harmony by married couples on the third lunar day, in the month of Margasira, during the bright half of the month. Lord Shiva and Parvathi are worshipped on the day since they are the best couple who are united forever as the two sides of the same reality. Some devotees may also choose other divine couples according to their preference.
Vata Savitri Vrata: It is celebrated in the month of Bhadrapada, on the third lunar day, during the bright half of the month. On this day, married women observe fast and worship the Banyan tree, praying for the long life of their husbands. In doing so, they follow the example of Savitri, who saved her husband from the jaws of death by confronting Yama, the Lord of Death.
Akshaya Tritiya Vrata: It is observed in the month of Vaisakha, on the third lunar day, in the bright half of the month, which is also considered auspicious to solemnize a Hindu marriage. Usually the parents of the bride and bridegroom observe it on the day of marriage, seeking long life and a happy marriage for their children. They remain on fast until the marriage is formally completed and the bride is given to the groom (Kanyadan) as a gift.
Skanda Shasti Vrata: It is observed in honor of Kartikeya in the month of Kartika on the sixth lunar day in the bright fortnight of the month. During the vrata devotees remain on complete fast for the whole day. In the evening, they stand in a sacred river and make an offering of a special preparation (which is made of curd, clarified butter and a Udak) to the setting sun. In some cases they turn towards south wherein the abode of the Kartikeya is said to be located to make the offerings. This vrata can be performed by anyone, irrespective of the caste or gender.
Popular modern Vratas
Present day Hindus practice many vratas either as part of the Vedic rituals, domestic worship, temple rituals and sacraments such as marriage or as part of festivities during the Hindu festivals such as Durga Puja or Maha Shiva Ratri. Apart from the weekly or fortnightly vratas which go by such names as Ekadasi or Dwadasi, the following are a few well-known vratas which are currently practiced by Hindus in many parts of India.
Vinayaka Vrata: It is observed on the day of Ganesha Chaturthi, which falls in the month of Bhadrapada during the bright half of the moon. On this day, Lord Ganesha is worshipped at home, in public and in temples with a lot of fanfare. Young children seek blessings for success in their studies. Householders pray for fulfillment of desires, progeny, happiness, prosperity, success and removal of suffering. Ganesha is served with his favorite food. Both men and women of all ages and backgrounds participate in the worship. The Puranas state that if widows worshp Ganesha on this day, they will never again suffer from widowhood in future lives. Fasting is not recommended on the day of Ganesha Vrat since he is a known lover of good food. However, people should abstain from alcohol, sex, foul speech, evil thoughts, meat, violence, etc., and stay pure and serene.
Devi Vrata: The name of the vrata goes after the goddess chosen for worship which can be Durga, Gauri, Saraswathi, Lalitha, Parvathi, etc. The procedure is more or less same for all the vratas involving the aspects of Shakti. The prayers and chants may vary since each has her own aspects, powers and victories. Any vrata involving the goddess is meant to overcome suffering and adversity and obtain her blessings for peace, prosperity, good children, happiness, etc. Devotees may worship the chosen aspect of the goddess for a day or for nine days starting from the day after full moon (padyami), during which they should wake up in the early morning take a bath and worship her with sixteen different offerings (shodasopachara puja), uttering prayers and the several names of her. One may also worship different aspects of the goddess on nine days. On the tenth day, they should offer the concluding worship, distribute the remains of the offerings and give gifts to Brahmanas, etc. This vrata can be performed by people of all castes and backgrounds. It is more auspicious if it is performed during the Durga festival.
Varalakshmi Vrata: It is performed in the month of Sravana on Friday in the preceding week of the full moon day in the bright half of the month. Goddess Lakshmi, who is also an aspect of Mother Goddess, is worshipped. It is considered extremely auspicious for those who seek eight types riches, a happy family, peace and prosperity. On that day, women wake up in the early morning, take a bath and prepare and sanctify the ritual place. They place an image of Lakshmi and perform a domestic worship with sixteen types of offerings (shodasopachara puja), uttering prayers and mantras and chanting the 1000 names of Lakshmi. They may also tie a garland of consecrated leaves to the main door, decorate the front side of the house and tie a sacred thread around the right wrist. If a priest is invited, they pay him his dues and offer him food and gifts according to their capacity. At the end of the worship, worshipper share the sacrificial food offered to the goddess and share a meal. Ashta Lakshmi Vrata is a variation of the same, in which the eight aspects of Lakshmi are worshipped.
Satyanaryana Vrata: This is currently one of the most popular vratas of Hinduism, in which Swami Satyanarayana is worshipped, who is considered an emanation or aspect of Lord Vishnu or Narayana. Satyanarayana means god of truth (satyam). The vrata is performed to mark an important occasion such as entering a new home, a marriage in the house or the reunion of the family or to overcome problems and difficulties. It is considered to be auspicious and beneficial, as the stories associated with it suggest. They also suggest that it is an ancient vrata with a long history. There is no specific month or date when it can be performed. People perform the worship on any day as suggested by a priest or an astrologer. Any auspicious occasion such as the full moon day (Purnima) or seventh lunar day, etc., is chosen for the purpose, barring a few months such as Ashadha. During the vrata in the presence of children, family relations and friends, the head of the household and his wife worship Lord Satyanarayana with prayers and offerings. They may do it on their own or with the help of a priest. At the end of the ceremony, they distribute the prasad and share a meal with the guests.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- The Concept of Atman or Eternal Soul in Hinduism
- The Problem of Maya Or Illusion and How To Deal With It
- Belief In Atman, The Eternal Soul Or The Inner Self
- Brahman, The Highest God Of Hinduism
- The Bhagavad Gita Original Translations
- The Bhagavadgita, Philosophy and Concepts
- Bhakti yoga or the Yoga of Devotion
- Hinduism And The Evolution of Life And Consciousness
- Why to Study the Bhagavadgita Parts 1 to 4
- Origin, Definition and Introduction to Hinduism
- Symbolic Significance of Numbers in Hinduism
- The Belief of Reincarnation of Soul in Hinduism
- The True Meaning Of Renunciation According To Hinduism
- The Symbolic Significance of Puja Or Worship In Hinduism
- Introduction to the Upanishads of Hinduism
- Origin, Principles, Practice and Types of Yoga
1. A Study of the Vrata-rites, Part 1, Issue 1 Sudhir Ranjan Das S. C. Kar, 1953, Rites and ceremonies
2. Bhavishya Purana Front Cover B.K. Chaturvedi Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd., 2004 – Puranas
3. Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World By Ganga Ram Garg
4. Women, Religion, and Social Change edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Ellison Banks Findly