Encyclopedia of Vedic Astrology: Remedies: Austerities and Fasts, Chapter VII, Part – 2



Continuation…
Dr. Shanker Adawal

Fasts

Vrat is one of the most significant, simple, facile and a traditional way of rectification of various kinds of maladies. The Sanskrit word `vrata’ denotes `religious vow’. It is one of the most widely used words in the Hindu religious and ritualistic literature. Derived from the verbal root `vrn’ (`to choose’), it signifies a set of rules and discipline. Hence `Vrata’ means performance of any ritual voluntarily over a particular period of time. The purpose is to propitiate a deity and secure from it what the performer wants. This whole process, however, should be undertaken with a sankalpa (Resolution) or religious resolve, on an auspicious day and time fixed as per the dictates of the Hindu religious almanacs called panjika.

Vrata in the Puranas

1. Puranas denote various types of vratas. In all the Purans there is mention of Fasts and how they are performed. Purans have categorized the fasts in following manner.

2. `Kayika-vrata’. It is a vrata pertaining to the body. The stress is on physical austerity like fasting, remaining sleepless, taking baths and such other restraining activity in connection with one’s body.

3. `Vachika-vrata’or vrata pertaining to speech. Here much importance is given to speaking the truth and reciting the scriptures, both being a function of the organ of speech.

4. `Manasa-vrata’ or vrata pertaining to the mind. The emphasis here is on controlling the mind, by controlling the passions and prejudices that arise in it.

5. Payovrata – is the vrata or penance observed by goddess Aditi to propitiate Lord Vishnu. This vrata is discussed in detail in the Bhagavata Purana.

Time based Vrata

There are vratas again based on time. A vrata to be performed just for a dina or day is a `dina-vrata’. One lasting for a vaara or a paksha (week or fortnight) is a `vaara-vrata’ or a `paksha-vrata’ as the case may be. One to be undertaken on a particular tithi (a day according to the lunar calendar) or when a particular nakshatra (asterism) is on the ascendant, is respectively called a `tithi-vrata’ or `nakshatra-vrata’. Most of the vratas now in vogue are based on the tithis of the lunar calendar.

Based on deity

Another classification is according to the deity (an aspect of God) worshipped; for instance, Swarna-gauri-vrata is dedicated to Gauri, another name of Parvati Devi. Likewise Vara-siddhi-vinayaka-vrata is for propitiation of Lord Ganesha or Satya-narayana-vrata to Vishnu known as Satyanarayana.

Impact on society

Who are the persons eligible to perform a vrata? Anyone who has faith in it and wishes to perform it as per the rules, even if the person be a mleccha (alien)! During the Vedic period sacrifices were strictly restricted to the men of the three upper castes called dvijas meaning twice-born. The doors of the vratas were thrown open to one and all during bhakti movement, thus bringing ritualistic Hinduism to especially the lower castes and women. They had been denied that privilege for centuries. Historically speaking, this might have been a master-stroke devised by the liberal-minded religious leaders of the Hindu society to prevent the exodus of their flock to the Jaina and Buddhist folds, which were singularly free from the labyrinth of rituals and offered a simple religion of ethical conduct for the common public.

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