CHATURMASYA VRATA is undertaken during the four months period starting from shukla ekadashi (Devashayani Ekadashi) of Ashada month to shukla ekadashi (Prabodhini Ekadashi) of Kartika month. It is a very auspicious time period wherein everyone irrespective of their state and stage of life (varna-ashrama dharma) undertake various vratas (vows) and upasanas. Most of the important festivals are during the chaturmasya period. Any religious activities undertaken during this period bestows immense benefits and merits on the individual.
Our one year constitutes a day for the devatas. Uttarayana, the six bright months of the year which represents the day-time for the devatas was coming to a close, and Dakshinayana, the six dark months of the year which represents the night-time for the devatas was about to start. All the devatas came to the peak of Meru where Lord Varaha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu was residing. They assembled there to take leave of the Lord and then retire during their night time. When all the devatas were offering their prostrations to the Lord, a celestial woman, dark in complexion and dressed in white came forward to offer her salutations to the Lord. She was looking very sad. The Lord enquired what the matter was. She said, “O Lord, I am RATRI DEVI, the presiding deity of Dakshinayana. I am feeling extremely dejected because nobody likes me. All the devatas go to sleep during my regime. And there in Bhuloka, no one conducts any auspicious functions like marriage, gruhapravesha etc during Dakshinayana. Everyone considers me as inauspicious. I feel terribly neglected and do not wish to live anymore”.
The devatas heard her plea and requested Lord Varaha to bestow His grace upon RATRI DEVI. The All-compassionate Lord consoled her and said, “Devi, do not worry. During Dakshinayana, the four months starting from shukla ekadashi of Ashada, the whole of Shravana, Bhadrapada, Aswayuja and upto shukla ekadashi of Kartika will be known as CHATURMAASA. This time-period will be especially dear to me and whoever performs any noble activity whether it is snana (ablution), vrata (vows), tapa (austerity), japa (chanting the Lord’s name), dana (charity), puja and homa (rituals) or dhyana (contemplation) during this period will earn immense merit. This merit will increase day by day and therefore the fourth month of Kartika will bestow maximum benefit to a person who performs meritorious deeds and hence Kartika maasa will be very special and dear to me. The merit earned during these four months will be many times more than that earned during the other months.” Hearing this, RATRI DEVI was very happy. She offered her prostrations to the Lord and went away totally satisfied.
The Presiding Deities for these four months are Sridhara, Hrishikesha, Padmanabha and Damodara (the Lord is also worshipped as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha during these four months). Symbolically, the four months represent our inner spiritual journey and they stand for: VYAKULATHA (inner restlessness and an intense urge to know of the Higher Truth), SRAVANA (Listening), MANANA (Reflection) and NIDHIDHYASANA (Contemplation). Amongst the vratas (vows) undertaken during the Chaturmasya, “Anna Dana”(ANNA represents both ‘food’ and ‘knowledge’) is very important and is of immense benefit. Sages and Saints do not travel during the rainy season since it is not safe to cross through forests, mountains and valleys during this period because of landslides, flooded rivers, etc. Also the rainy season is the breeding season for worms, insects and animals. The tiny crawling creatures can come under one’s feet. Also it is not safe to encounter the aggressive and wild animals enroute during their breeding season. Therefore, the Masters give up travelling during these four months and stay in one place. They conduct satsanghs and give discourses to the people of the village or town on the sacred scriptures.
When the Sun moves from Northern solstices to Southern solstices, there are lot of changes happening in Nature. There are significant changes due to the influence of the sun and moon on the earth and its produce which are not easily perceptible to us. Similarly there are significant changes that happen in our physical, emotional and intellectual constitution. There are marked changes in the functioning of the digestive system, metabolic activities etc. What we take in as ‘food’ at the physical level plays a significant role in our mental constitution. This being the rainy season, vegetables, fruits and pulses become breeding ground for a variety of worms and insects. Dairy products like milk etc are not suitable for consumption because it is the breeding season for cows. And the bacteria responsible for processing the milk into curds in this season is not suitable for our constitution. Hence four important vratas are prescribed during these four months. They pertain to our food habits. They are: shaka vrata (leafy vegetables and some fruits are prohibited in the first month of chaturmasya), dadhi vrata (curds is prohibited during the second month), ksheera vrata (milk and milk products are prohibited during the third month) and dvidala vrata (pulses consisting of two segments are prohibited during the last and fourth month). These vratas help us largely to remain sattvic and healthy at all levels of our personality: physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual.
नमामि नारायणपादपङ्कजं करोमि नारायणपूजनं सदा । वदामि नारायणनाम निर्मलं स्मरामि नारायणतत्त्वमव्ययम् ॥ (Mukunda Maala)
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