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Concept & Significance of Charturmaasam

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  • Concept & Significance of Charturmaasam

    What is Chaturmasam? When does it occur?

    Chaturmasam is an auspicious four-month period that occurs every year starting from Aashada Sukla Ekadasi to Karthika Sukla Dasami. While it starts from Aashada Sukla Ekadasi for Grihasthas and others, for Yatis (Ascetics) it starts from Aashada Sukla Pournima. The months of Sravana, Bhadrapada, Aaswayuja and Karthika fall under this period. The period of Chaturmasam coincides with the monsoon season when important Hindu festivals also take place during this period.

    One may get a doubt that when we have 12 months in a year why only these selected four months are called Chaturmasa?

    As per the time element one year for human beings is equivalent to one full day for devathas (Day/night). Similarly one month for human beings is equivalent to 1 day for Pitru Devathas out of which Sukla Paksha (waxing moon days) 15 days is day time and Krishna Paksha (waning moon days) 15 days is the night time for Pitrus.

    In order to give significance and importance for performing sacred and pious deeds during night time of Devathas, Lord Varaha gave a boon to Rathri Devatha that these four months (Sravana, Bhadrapada, Aaswayuja and Karthika) are very holy and dear to him. Whoever performs sacred deeds (Snana, Japa, Homa, Vratha, Dana etc.) during these months would reap immense benefits out of it. The merits of performing sacred deeds would increase day by day during these four months and when it comes to Kartheeka Masa it is the most holy and sacred of all the four months. Incidentally major religious festivals including Pitru Paksha fall during these months of Chaturmasam.

    These four months are said to be very dear and pleasing to Lord Sri Maha Vishnu when He enters into Yoga Nidra (Divine slumber) on Aashada Sukla Ekadasi day called Deva Sayani or Hari Sayani Ekadasi. He gets up from Yoga Nidra on Kartheeka Sukla Dwadasi day called Uttana Dwadasi. Thus, when the Lord SriManNarayana is in yoga-nidra it is befitting for us to set aside our mundane activities and participate in special religious pursuits.

    There are four spiritually important months in a year known as Aashada, Karteeka, Maagha and Vaisakha. To begin with Aashada Maasa, when the rains will start afresh and a number of creatures (living beings) will sprout on the earth. This month is said to be the appropriate period for sprouting of spiritual knowledge in the minds of human beings.

    Significance of Chaturmasam:

    Chaturmasa Vratha:

     Tapta Mudra Dharana during Chaturmasam 

    Chaturmasya Vratha begins with Tapta Mudra Dharana. On Aashada sukla Ekadasi (Sayani Ekadasi) day one should get Tapta-Mudra-Dharana from their respective religious Gurus. This refers to the act of getting the divine symbols stamped on one’s body. It is said that people not accepting Tapta-Mudra-Dharana are not eligible for performing the duties prescribed for them in Vedas and other authored scriptures. If this is not possible for reasons beyond human control, then one should strive to accept Tapta-Mudra-Dharana at least once during the Chaturmasya. This ritual we find being observed mostly in Madhwa Sampradaya.

    Who are eligible to observe Chaturmasa Vratha?
    Without any discrimination of age, gender, caste, and asrama this vratha can be performed by one and all. That is Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vysyas, Sudras, Women, Grihasthas; Sanyasis are all eligible to undertake this vratha. There is no exception whatsoever, the vratha is applicable to people belonging to all the four varnas (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vysya and Sudra) as well as all the four Asramas (brahmachari, gruhastha, vanaprastha and sanyasa).

    Details of Chaturmasa Vratha

    Vratha means a niyama or a restriction. Any vratha imposes restrictions on the food that can be partaken. This is for us to reduce our dependence on the external material world and realize the inner spiritual power. This is a great way for achieving control of the senses which is a very important factor in a person’s spiritual development.

    During the four months period, certain food items are prohibited. The respective Vratha is named after the item that is prohibited during the month. So, the names of the four Vrathas are Saaka Vratha, Ksheera Vratha, Dadhi Vratha, and Dvidala Vratha. Any vratha gives full fruits when it is performed with proper Sankalpa. Hence, sankalpa for each vratha should be done at the beginning of each vratha.

    Saaka vratha: The period for observing Saaka vratha is from Aashada sukla Ekadasi to Sravana sukla Dasami. Saaka Vratha is the first of the four Vrathas of Chaturmasya. As the very name indicates, Saaka or any kind of Vegetable and fruit should not be offered to the Lord nor should be partaken. Examples are all fruits, all vegetables, all leafy vegetables, curry leaves; coriander, chillies, tamarind, lemons, spices, cashew, dry grapes etc. are prohibited from using. Instead of tamarind dry mango powder is used and instead of chillies pepper is used.

    Dadhi Vratha: This should be observed from Sravana sukla Ekadasi to Bhadrapada sukla Dasami. During this period, curds (yoghurt) should not be used in any form or manner. However, buttermilk, a derivative of curd, is allowed.

    Ksheera Vratha: This should be observed from Bhadrapada sukla Ekadasi to Aaswayuja sukla Dasami. During this period, milk should not be used in any form or manner. This restriction includes milk derivatives like cream of milk, cheese or other dairy products, but excludes curds or yoghurt.

    Dvidala Vratha: This should be observed from Aaswayuja sukla Ekadasi to Kartheeka sukla Dasami. During this period, one should avoid dvidalas and bahu-beeja vegetables. Dvidala refers to any seed or vegetable which when broken or fried splits into two halves. Examples of such items are coconuts, ground nuts, split channa dal, batani (green peas), toor dal, Masoor Dal, Urad dal, Moong Dal, Kadale (channa dal/Bengal gram) and so on. Bahu-beeja 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.

    Austerities that can be observed during Chaturmasam:

    It is said that during Chaturmasam one should make noble resolutions (sankalpa) like Satsanga, Dvijabhakti, Veda Patana, Sathya Bhashana, Dharma Sadhana, Satkriya, Go-Bhakti, Tarpana (Guru, Deva, and Agni), Dana Bhakti. Among the several Danas one can perform during this period, Anna Dana is given lot of significance that accrues great merits. In addition, one can also perform certain optional rituals during this period like,

    Fasting: Among the austerities fasting is given lot of significance and importance during Chaturmasam. According to ones capability, health, and will power one may choose the type of fasting. It could be,
    Fasting on all the Ekadasi Days during Chaturmasam
    Fasting on one day and eating on the next day for targeted number of days say a month (Dharana – Parana)
    Eating only one time in a day
    Fasting continuously for five days starting from Ekadasi
    Lakshavarti: Preparing one lakh cotton wicks and lighting lamps with it for the Lord
    Laksha-pradakshina: Going around an icon or idol in a temple one lakh times.
    Go Padma Vratha: Drawing of 33 no. gopadmas with rangoli powder and performing 33 rounds pradakshina namaskara around the Gopadmas.

    Other simple austerities that can be observed

    Reciting Vishnu Sahasra Nama Sthothram, Sri Hari Vayu Sthuthi, Hanuman Chaleesa, Sri Raghavendra Sthothram etc.. with a targeted number.
    Reciting Gayathri Manthra daily with a targeted number.
    Observing Mouna vratham during a specific time in a day for a targeted number of days. (one should be absolutely in tranquil state without even making gestures)
    Writing Rama Koti (Rama Nama) daily with a targeted number of times
    Parayana or Sravana of sacred texts like Bhagavatha Purana, Bhagawad Geetha, Vishnu Purna, Sundara Kanda etc.

    All the above austerities should be started from Aashada Shukla Ekadasi continued up to Kartheeka Sukla Dwadasi. The vratha requires the follower to be engaged in spiritual pursuits, such as study of the scriptures, worship & service to God, generosity, avoiding discussion on materialistic topics, etc. The main purpose of all Vrathas or rituals is ultimately to please the Lord the benefits of which are bountiful.

    At the end of the day one should understand the significance of Chaturmasa and what vow to take is a choice of an individual. As long as the vow is to perform a sacred and pious act it would definitely yield positive results and would bring pleasing rewards. Vrathas and austerities go a long way in developing this mind-frame. It is also believed that they generate a lot of positive energy that helps one in the struggle of life. Control over wandering mind and discipline of life does a lot of good to the physical as well as the mental abilities of an individual.

    Prohibited activities and items during Chaturmasam

    Hair cutting, shaving, nail cutting, participating in sensual pleasures, sleeping on the bed are prohibited. Among prohibited items are, Sugar cane, Urad, Horse Gram, White mustard, Pumpkin, Water Melon, Brinjal, Radish, Snake Guard, Onion, Garlic, Non-vegetarian food.