Traditions & Festivals

Meaning of fasting

The scriptures discuss many methods for the well-being and advancement of human beings, like Yagnas, penances, selfless services, charity, making pilgrimages etc. Fasting is also among these many methods. It is considered extremely significant in internal purification. The thoughts, mind and wisdom are purified and developed further through it. Devotion towards God  and feelings of faith and surrender are intensified. Besides being useful spiritually fasting has also worldly significance. It makes the mind tension-free and also gives rest and makes the digestive system stronger, thus revitalising the health of a person. As a result the person becomes active, it is a well known fact that people who eat more are more often than not lazy by nature. Controlled eating not only makes the person active but also increases one’s longevity.
All the sins, whether they are physical, mental, vocal can be wiped out by observing fasts according to the scriptural dictums. Many times we have seen that before commencing a Fast and during the period of fasting a person’s face appears lustreless and pale, but on the completion of the fast the same face seems to glow with a divine ethereal radiance! The reason for it is that due to the effects of the fast all impure thoughts and feelings are removed and it’s but natural for the glow of a purified spirit to reflect on the face.
But now a question arises, what is Vrata (fasting)? It is absolutely not going on a hunger strike according to one’s fancy.
The resolve to acquire spiritual merit by observing a fast according to the scriptures or through the actions that  spring out of fasting is called a “Vrata”.
Yam-Niyam, observing Sham-Dam, abstaining from food and pleasures, leading a life according to the scriptural dictums and living just on milk or water – these are all the parts of Vrata. A fast is always observed according to the instructions of the scriptures, hence Vrata is another form of Tapashcharya (penance). The observer of fast has to undergo physical affliction, that’s why fasting is a penance. As ‘Dam’ means controlling the senses and ‘Sham’ means controlling of the mind, and as an observer of fast  controls (Niyaman) his senses, Vrata or fasting is also called ‘Niyam’.
It is not possible for everyone to perform different Yagnas and tough rituals like Agnihotra, Somyagna, Harviyagna and Paakyagna according to the rites mentioned in the scriptures. That’s why the observance of Vrata, Upvaas and Niyam is considered most beneficial for a person in this age. Gods can be propitiated, worldly advancement can be achieved and even Moksha can be attained through the performance of fasts, in fact, nothing is impossible for a person who fasts regularly.

The rules for fasting :

Kshamaa Satyam Dayaa Daanam Shouchmindriyanigrahah,
Devpoojaangiharannam Santosho-steyamev Chaa.
Sarvavrateshvayam Dharmah Saamaanyo Dashddyaa Smritah.
(Agni 175/10-11)

i) Tolerance, truth, compassion, charity, sense-control, worshipping deities, performing Havan, and contentment, all these Niyams should be observed by a person who is fasting.
ii) A person should take care of both internal and external purification. Abandoning all sinful deeds and worldly pleasures and situating oneself in purity of thoughts, mind and actions is called ‘Upvaas’. Hence a person should try to remain pure in mind, body and actions and worship and serve his deity, Guru, Brahmans, ascetics and cows according to his capacity. He should listen to holy texts like Bhagwat and utilise his time in the company of holy men. Moreover he should also give charity.
iii) The Vratas (fasting) done on water, fruits, roots, curd, Aushadhi (herbs) and the will of a Brahman or the Guru never fail. Porridge used in Havan, food got through alms, sattu, vegetables, cow’s milk and ghee, curd, roots, mangoes, pomegranate, oranges and bananas are ideal food for the Vrati (one who observes fast). The Vrati can live on any of these according to the nature of his Vrata or instructions of the Guru.
iv) The Vrati should spend his time in Satsanga (company of holy men and Gurus). He should abandon the company of the opposite sex, refrain from passionate talks, give up articles of make-up and should never partake of stale and Taamasi food. The fast is rendered ineffective if a person drinks water after every small period, if he keeps the company of the opposite sex, sleeps in the noon or if he has sex.
If the desire for which the Vrata is being observed is auspicious and good then the merits that are received by the Vrati are increased manifolds.

Eligibility for fasting :

i) Those who behave and carry themselves according to the class they belong to are eligible for observing Vratas.
ii) Truthful, determined, free of base feelings, simple, sweet-tongued, untalkative, who wishes good for all and one who has faith in the holy texts can observe fast, though he may belong to any of the four classes.
iii) For married women only, there is a rule that they should observe and take Vrata Deeksha only after getting the permission of the husband. According to the scriptures if a married woman  observes excessive Vratas then it can be bad for the husband’s longevity. Hence a married woman should never perform Vratas according to her fancy, and without the prior permission of the Guru.

Types of Vrata  : Vratas are generally of three types.
i) Nitya Vrata, ii) Neimittika Vrata, and iii) Kaamya Vrata.

Vrata Procedure and Sankalp

Before commencing any Vrata it is compulsory to take a Sankalp (resolve) after worshipping the deity and the Guru. For this the Vrati should perform the Maanas Poojan (mental worship) as given below.
First the Vrati should take a bath and then cleanse himself internally through Panchgavya Praashan. Then whatever type of Vrata he wishes to observe, he should find a good Muhurat (auspicious time) for it and perform the mental worship of the presiding Lord of that Vrata thus –

O Lord of the Vrata! I am observing this fast for the acquirement of fame, offspring, wisdom, wealth, health, Bhog-Moksha and purification of the self. I am commencing this unique Vrata in your divine presence, may I achieve success in it. O protector of saints! Even if I die before completing the fast may it be completed through your grace. O Keshav! Vrata is just one of your many forms, you are the source and preserver of all the worlds, hence for the fulfilment of all my desires and wishes I invoke you in this place, please come to me. I mentally offer to bathe you with the Panchgavya, Panchaamrit and pure water, please accept it. May you destroy all my sins and transgressions. O Ardhyapate! Please accept the Ardhya and Paddya that comprise of incense, flowers and water, accept the Aachaman that I offer you and thus make me respectable in the world. O Lord of all Vratas! Accept these clothes and ornaments so that I may have no paucity of these articles myself. O Absolute fragrance! I offer you this fragrant sandal, please accept it and free me of the foul smell of sins and make me fragrant with meritorious deeds. O Lord! Please accept this flower so that I may get all the fruits and flowers that I want. Besides this flower fragrance is also the giver of health and longevity. O Lord of all saints! Accept this incense comprising Guggal and ghee. May the fragrance fill my whole life. Oh Lord of Lamps! Accept this butter lamp whose flame is the remover of all darkness, and please make my life too radiant like it. O Lord of grains and all foods! Accept this offering so that I may have plenty of prosperity, wealth and food, and so that I may be able to perform meritorious deeds by giving charity. O Lord! O deity of this Vrata! May this mental worship that  I have performed and which is devoid of devotion and Mantras be successful due to your grace. May you give me wealth-prosperity, offspring, virtues, wisdom, fame, longevity, worldly comforts and Moksha. O Lord! O Lord of all Vratas  please accept this mental worship that I have performed, and please accept my heartful thanks for having compassion on me and coming here, O Lord please now return to your abode with my everlasting gratitude.
(Agni. 75/44-58)
This is an extremely simple and easy to perform mental worship, a worship that is free of Mantras and difficult rites. Only the pure feelings of the devotee are offered lovingly to the deity, hence it is not necessary for the person to be educated. It means that even an uneducated person can perform this unique worship. But if any Sadhak wants he can learn the worship procedure from the Guru, or learn it from this magazine and then worship his deity elaborately with special rites and Mantras.
So, after mentally worshipping the deity and seeking his permission, the Vrati should commence the Vrata. A special Vrata should be commenced only after choosing the proper Muhurat for it. Every Vrata or Upvaas has its own set of rules, the Sadhak should be aware of these and should try to follow them.
After bathing, shaving etc. the Vrati should  worship Ganpati, Maatrikaas and Panchadevs (Ganesh, Vishnnu, Sun , Durga and Shiva) properly and then invoke and invite the Lord of the Vrata. Place his statue on a Kalash and then worship it according to five-step or ten-step or sixteen step procedure. The presiding deity of the day, Tithi (Indian date), month or Nakshatra on which the  fast is commenced is to be chosen as prescribed by the scriptures for different deities.
After worshipping thus the Vrati should observe the fast for as long he has resolved and then perform the Udhyaapan ( to commemorate the ending of the fast).
* One should not let anger, greed, infatuation and indolence spoil the Vrata, especially when one has taken the Sankalp. However, if such a situation arises one should give up food for three days, as repentance and then again commence the Vrata. In pilgrimage, Shraaddh Karma and Vrata, if one takes food from another, then that  person gets the merit.
* If one is unable to perform Vrata due to  ill-health or other circumstances then other family members or the priest can do it in his name.

Types of Vratas

i) Kaayik Vrata, ii) Vaachik Vrata, iii) Maansik Vrata, iv) Nitya Vrata, v) Neimittika Vrata, vi) Kaamya Vrata, vii) Eik Bhukta Vrata, viii) Ayaachit Vrata, ix) Mitbhuk Vrata, x) Chaandraayann Vrata, xi) Praajaapatya Vrata, xii) Nakta Vrata.

i) Kaayik Vrata :  The mentality of attacking others physically, giving pain to others mentally, and to pave troubles in others path should be abandoned.  Along with this giving up of bitter speech and the practice of non-violence is called Kaayik Vrata.
ii) Vaachik Vrata :  Shunning enmity, being friendly to all and always speaking truth is Vaachik Vrata.
iii) Maansik Vrata : The peaceful and undivided state of mind is Maansik Vrata.
iv) Nitya Vrata : Fasting done for spiritual merit is called Nitya Vrata.
v) Neimittika Vrata : Like the Chaandraayann Vrata this is a Vrata done for redeeming all sins.
vi) Kaamya Vrata : All fasting done for prosperity and good health is called Kaamya Vrata, for example Vat Savitri, Ahoi and Karvaachouth Vrata. In these Vratas specific things are offered in worship and eaten. As these Vratas have a motive behind them, as they are the mediums for achieving some goal these Kaamya Vratas take the person towards “Pravritti”. However those Vratas that are done only for the purpose of Upvaas, the Vratas that are goal unto themselves lead the person towards “Nivritti”.
vii) Eik Bhukta Vrata : This Vrata is further divided into three types. a) Swatantra, b) Anyaanga, and c) Pratinidhi. Half day fasting is Swatantra Eik Bhukta Vrata. Anyaanga Vrata is in the afternoon. Pratinidhi Vrata can be done  at any time.
viii) Nakta Vrata : This Vrata is observed in the night time. Though one rule says that householders should do it during the night time while widows and ascetics should do it before the sun set.
ix) Bhitbhuk Vrata : In this type of fasting the Vrati can take only ten morsels of food once a day, daily.
x) Ayaachi Vrata : In this type of Vrata the Vrati should eat whatever he receives without asking, at any time except the “Nisheddh Kaal” (time of prohibition).
Bhitbhuk and Ayaachi Vrata are thousand fold more fruitful and bestow everything on the Vrati.
xi) Chandraayann Vrata : This Vrata is extremely important for the appeasement of Lord moon, to go to the Chandralok after death and to redeem oneself of sins.
Like the moon this Vrata also increases and decreases. This Vrata is of two types.
a) Yavmadhya Chandraayann Vrata :
In this type of fasting the Vrati, after the Amavasya (moonless night) takes one morsel of food on the new moon, two morsels on the second day of the moon, and thus increases the morsels until on the full moon day he takes fifteen morsels of food. Then after that he decreases the morsels, that is, on the next day of the full moon he takes fourteen morsels, then thirteen morsels and continues so until on the moonless night he again partakes nothing. In this way from one moonless night to the other, this one month Vrata is called Yavmadhya Chaandraayann Vrata.
b) Pipeelikaa Tanu Chaandraayann :
In this Vrata the reverse is done, that is , on the next day of the moonless night fourteen morsels are taken, then thirteen, until on the full moon the Vrati takes nothing. Then the next day he takes one morsel, then two, and in this way on the fourteenth day of the dark moon he takes fourteen morsels. He should not take anything on the Amaavasya (moonless night). This one month Vrata is called Pipeelika Tanu Chaandraayann Vrata.
Praajaapatya Vrata : This is a twelve days Vrata. In the first three days one should eat 22 morsels, the next three days one should eat 26 morsels, and the next three days 24 morsels of well cooked food. The last three days one should not eat anything. A morsel is the amount of food that can come easily in the mouth! In this way, by fasting for twelve days a person can complete one Praajaapatya Vrata.

Vratas according to days and gods :There are special class of Vratas according to months, days, Thithis and gods. Here we are mentioning these Vratas.
i) Maas Vrata : All Vratas that are observed in the lunar months of Veishaakh, Bhaadrapad, Kartik and Maagh.
ii) Paakshik Vrata : Vratas done in the fortnights of dark and bright moon.
iii) Tithi Vrata : Vratas done on the lunar dates like Pratipada, Eikadashi, Amaavasya, Poornnimaa etc.
iv) Vaar Vrata : Vratas done on various days, like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc.
v) Nakshatra Vrata : Vratas done on days when the moon is occupying different Nakshatras (asterisms), like Rohinni, Anuradha, Shravanna etc.
vi) Yog Vrata : Vratas done in various Yogas like Vyatipat etc.
vii) Karann Vrata : Vratas done in various Karanns like Bhadra etc.
viii) Dev Vrata : Vrata done for gods like Ganesh, Vishnnu, Shiva etc. are called Dev Vratas.
Important Vratas of different months :

i) Cheitra – Samvatsar Pratipada, Arundhati, Suryashashtthi, Ramnavami, Hanumaan Jayanti, Ashunya Shayan, Bhartari Dwaadashi.
ii) Veishaakh – Akshay Treetiya, Nimbasaptami, Ganga Saptami, Parashuram Jayanti.
iii) Jyeshttha – Vat Savitri, Nirjalaa Eikaadashi, Ganga Dusshera.
iv) Aashaad – Harishayani Eikaadashi, Skanda Shashtthi, Surya Saptami, Vyaas Poornnima.
v) Shraavan – Naag Panchami, Doorvaashtami, Shraavani Poornnima.
vi) Bhaadrapad – Hartaalikaa, Ganesh Chaturthi, Rishi Panchami, Muktabharan Saptami, Shree Krishna Janmaashtami, Vaaman Dwaadashi, Anant Chaturdashi, Agstaya Vrata.
vii) Ashwin – Upaang Lalita, Mahalaya, Devi Navraatra, Vijaya Dashami, Sharad Poornnima.
viii) Kaartik – Karvaa Chouth, Dhan Trayodashi, Narak Chaturdashi, Deepaawali, Annakoot, Yam Dweetiyaa, Veikunttha Chaturdashi, Bheeshma Panchak Vrata, Hari Bodhini, Kaartik Poornnima, Manorath Poornnima.
ix) Maargasheersha – Kaal Bheiravaashtami, Datt Jayanti.
x) Poush – Bhadraashtami, Makar Sankraanti.
xi) Maagh – Vasant Panchami, Achalaa Saptami, Bheemaashtami.
xii) Phalgun – Mahashivraatri, Holika.
Whichever Vrata it is, the only thing that matters is the observance of physical, mental and spiritual purity. A Vrata is especially a medium to achieve riddance from the three afflictions (physical, mental and spiritual), and to realise the self and the Absolute. One who performs a Vrata for this purpose automatically gets manifold more results. His mind and thoughts become pure and selfless and he develops an awareness of truth – all falsities in his life are removed. He moves on the right path and in the end gains happiness in both the worlds.
If Vratas are done with purity and selflessness then a person is redeemed of all sins,  gets immense spiritual merits and gets the real devotion and love for God.
Nothing is unachievable, whether it is Bhog or Moksha, for a person who performs Vratas according to the rules and regulations mentioned in the scriptures. Leading a life devoid of sorrows and troubles such a person is revered even by the gods.
Note : Weak, sick, extremely old and unhealthy people should not undertake fasting on their own will, but should first consult the Guru and seek his permission. If such people start a difficult Vrata they might suffer physically and mentally, and  they may even get contrary results to those that are expected.