Browsing articles in "Falgun (Feb-Mar)"

Sri Swasthani Brata Katha

Sri Swasthani Brata Katha is a very popular ritual observed in Nepal in the Poush month (January – February) during winter. Goddess Sri Swasthani, known to grant wishes of her devotees, is worshipped for the whole month of Poush. The Swasthani Brat Katha (story) is recited everyday. The month long telling of the tales are dedicated to the Goddess and the stories that are mainly narrated are those of Swasthani Devi, Lord Shiva and other Gods.

Goddess Sri Swasthani is usually portrayed as a four-handed deity with charka, trishul, sword and lotus in each hand sitting at the center while Asta Matrika or eight deities of power – Mahakali, Baishanavi, Brahmi Maheswari, Kaumeshwari, Barahi, Indrayani and Chamunda painted around her.

It is believed that Goddess Swasthani helped Goddess Sati overcome her troubles after she burned herself at Daksha Yagam after hearing her husband, Lord Shiva, being insulted. As per this legend Goddess Swasthani helped Sati overcome the troubles and then to reincarnate and win over Lord Shiva as her husband again.

During Swasthani Katha, Hindu married women observe brata or fasting for the wellbeing of their husbands and unmarried women observe the Vrata in order to get a good husband. Women wear red colored clothes and bangles during the one-month period as it is believed that red is a sign of good luck. The Brata is observed for one month by some women.

The month long rituals associated with Swasthani Katha takes place on the bank of rivers. In Kathmandu the festival takes place at Salinadi, a river associated with the Swasthani brata katha, situated in Sankhu.

During the holy period, in the morning or evening the Goddess is worshipped by family members, amid chanting of holy hymns from the book Shree Swasthani Brata Katha which narrates the divine leelas of Swasthani Devi. After the chanting of mantras stories are read by an elderly male or female member.

The stories mainly revolve around the theme – how some devotees due to ignorance take the side of Adharma and are later rescued by the Goddess. Some stories narrate who the goddess rescues her devotees. A major highlight in the stories is the prominence of Swasthani Devi over other gods in the Hindu Pantheon.

In the first few chapters of the 31-chapter book, episodes related to Lord Shiva’s wife Satidevi’s sufferings and her bearing them with courage and, eventually, Sri Swasthani rescuing her from her troubles and agonies, are explained.

During the Vrata period, after early morning shower the pooja of Shree Swasthani begins. In the evening chanting of brata katha or stories is a must. The routine shouldn’t break. It should go on uninterrupted for one month from the date of commencement. At the completion of chanting hymns, flowers and fruits are to be distributed among all those listening to brata katha.

On the concluding day of puja on a copper plate the holy symbol of Om is painted and a Shivling using mud is erected on it. Later, pooja of the Shivling takes place and this concludes the Sri Swasthani Barta Katha.

Fagu Purnima

Fagu Purnima or Holi takes place on the last day of Falgun. In Nepal, a wooden post, known as a chir is adorned with flags and erected in front of the palace. It is burned at night, representing the burning of the body of the old year. This is a festival of water and colors. This day is observed to rejoice the extermination of female demon Holika who together with her King brother conspired to kill his son Prahlad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Holi technically begins once the ‘chir’ is erected even though the actual day is a week later. In the Kathmandu valley and most of the other places, Fagu is celebrated on the first full moon after the ‘chir’ ceremony. In the Terai region of Nepal, Holi is celebrated the day after. This day, playful people especially the young ones wander through the streets in groups on foot or vehicles with various colors smeared all over them and the people in houses make merry throwing colors and water balloons at each other and also to these people on the streets. It’s better to hide your good clothes, for throughout the week you may be splashed with colored powder and water balloons. The last day is the wildest, youths covered with red vermilion powder roam the streets as inviting targets.

credit: Tracy Hunter

Chir, a wooden post

Shivaratri

credit: Dhilung Kirat

Mahashivaratri

Shivaratri or the night of Lord Shiva that falls sometime between February/March is one of the major festivals of Nepal. Maha ShivaRatri means “the night of Shiva”. The ceremonies take place chiefly at night.
This day is dedicated to the Lord of the Lords – Lord Shiva or Mahadev who lived in Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas. Shiva was married to Parvati on this day. Lord Shiva is the most worshiped God in the Hindu religion. More than 100,000 of Hindu devotees from India and Southeast Asia throng weeks ahead of the festival and gather in and around Pashupatinath temple – one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus in Kathmandu to pay their homage to Lord Shiva on his birthday. “Pashupatinath” literally means “the Lord of animals” as Lord Shiva is considered as the guardian and protector of everything that exists in the Himalayan Kingdom.

On this holy day, worshippers take dip and bath in the holy river at early dawn and fast for the whole day
and stay around fire to keep them warm as it is still winter in Nepal. People observe a strict fast on this day. Some devotees do not even take a drop of water. They keep vigil all night. The Shiva Lingam is worshiped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc., whilst the chanting of the Mantra Om Namah Shivaya continues. Offerings of bael leaves are made to the Lingam. Bael leaves are very sacred as, it is said, Lakshmi resides in them.

Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva, such as the Shiva Mahimna Stotra of Pushpadanta or Ravana’s Shiva Tandava Stotra are sung with great fervor and devotion. People repeat the Panchakshara Mantra, Om Namah Shivaya. He who utters the Names of Shiva during Shivaratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths. Many pilgrims flock to the places where there are Shiva temples.

When is shivaratri observed

Skandha Puran describes about four ShivaRatris. The first one is Nitya ShivaRatri (daily ShivaRatri – every night). The second one is the Masa ShivaRatri which is observed on the Krishna Pakchhya Chaturdasi(fourteenth Monday on the moon’s diminishing phase). The third one is the Maga Prathamadi ShivaRatri which is observed for the thirteen days starting from Prathama tithi in the month Maagh (mAsi) and on the chaturdasi night the Lord is worshiped throughout the night.
The fourth one is observed on the Masi (Maagh) month Krishna Pakchhya Chaturdasi. This is the one observed in a widespread manner. It is also called Maha ShivaRatri.

Way of observing shivaratri

Getting up early in the morning one meditates on the Infinitely Auspicious, ornate with thousands of splendid garlands, who is in the form of the holy symbol of shiva (Maha Lingam). Bathing and staying clean the worship of Lord Shiva in the form of Shiva lingam is done in the four jamas of the night (four equal time intervals of the night).

Note that the linga worship is explicitly mentioned for this vratam as this is the time the God out of Its grace for the benefit of pashus appeared in a formless-form that is a symbol (lingam) from its true nature of formlessness

Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra (Transliteration)

Om Tryambhakam Yajaamahe
Sugandhim Pushti Vardhanam |
Urvaarukamiva Bandhanaan
Mrityor Muksheeya Ma-Amritaat ||

Learn the meaning here

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