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photoVratas, Significance and Glory

soma vAra vratam

One of the name of Lord shiva is soma - saha uma. For the Lord someshvara Who wears the soma, the moon crescent on the matted hair, on the somavara day (Monday), this festival is observed.

When observed
Though all Mondays can be observed as vrata there are speacial mondays when it is much more emphasised to observe like the shrAvaNa somvAr and kArthikai sOmavAram. According to skandha purANa, on the Mondays of the month kArthikai (mid Nov to mid Dec) this vrata is observed.

Way of observing
Getting up at the dawn one meditates on the Supreme shiva. After taking bath and having done the morning twilight salutation, praying the Auspicious and Graceful Lord shiva, worships the couples who are devotees of the Lord, chaste and loveful as the Divines couple pArvati-paramEshawara themselves. Saluting those couples, offering them feast, the observer of this vratam eats only one time food that day. If unable to do the worship, then one would go to the temple and salute and pray the umA-maheshwara. Anointing the Lord with panychAmR^itam and other pleasent substances, hailing the Lord offering bilva leaves, not being money-minded offering the nice food materials to the Lord, sharing the food with the kind hearted devotees one eats the food. One may fast also completely.

Glory
One who observes this vratam would get to enjoy many pleasures in this world and finally would reach the kailAsham. The moon observed this vratam and got his "moonness". He saluted the Lord gauri- shankara and requested that this vratam be called soma vAra vratam (One of the names of the moon is soma. One of the name of Lord shiva with goddess umA is also soma) and whoever follows this vratam should get their wishes materialised by the grace of the Lord and finally should get the liberation. God granted the boon.

Long ago a princess called sIman^thini was observing this vratam regularly. Then two young boys cunningly came as if they were a married couple. The princess worshiped them. The young boys really became male and female couple ! The austerous sage vaShiShTa got the chaste arun^thadhi as his wife. One gets blessed by the shiva-shakti on observing this vratam sincerely.

umA maheshvara vratam

When observed
This is one of the aShTa mahA vartams told in ska.ndha purANam. It is observed on the full moon day when the sun is shining in the vruchchika rAsi that is in the month of kArthikai(Mid Nov to Mid Dec).

Way of observing
Getting up early in the morning on that full moon day, finishing the daily duties, one worships the form of shri umA maheshvara made of gold or silver, with various sacrad materials of worship and offerings. Later going to a temple one anoints the pArvati-paramEshvara with panychAmrutam (fruits mixed with sugar) and other substances, salute with offerings and tAmbUlam, pray the Lord making the gestures of salutations. Coming back home donating to the love hearted devotees of Lord shiva, one eats with them only once that day or may eat fruits and sweets along with them. The idol of the Lord umA maheshvara is given to a shivanyAni.

Glory
One who observes this vrata sincerely, would get the material benefits of the world. Afterwards would get the liberation too. A sightless muni called dhiraNabin^dhu observing this vrata got beautiful eyes. A lady by the glory of this vratam revived her dead husband, gave birth to a child and got to reach shivalOka. viShNu following this vratam in kR^iShNAvatAram got many children. braHmA got married to gAyatri, sAvitri, indra got the son jayantan, vaShiShTar received kAmadEnu for doing his yagnya, gautamar got the son sadAnanta mahaR^iShi, janaka got the daughter sIta. A dumb minded person called sudharman, mocked by the people about his stupidity, observed this vratam in devotion. By the Lord's blessing he got the grace of goddess sarasvati and he became a pundit. The king sindhusenan was chased away by the enemies. He observed this vratam as per the advise of saint agastiyar. On the Lord's order kubera won back the kingdom for him and handed over to him. This vratam gets to the observer the wealths and takes to the path of liberation.

kedhAra (gauri) vratam - Deepavali
History of deepavali
KedhAra Gowri vradham familiarly known as dIpAvaLi (Diwali) is celebrated throughout India in a grand manner. Without Caste creed, rich - poor differences people obeserve this festival. Infact very few people know that it is one of the important Saivite vratas. Brungi rishi is a great Shiva bhaktha. When he prays to Lord, he prays only to Lord Shiva and ignores Shakti. Angered by his act Shakti devi removed the energy from his body. He was not able to stand. He prayed to Lord Shiva. God gave him a stick to support his body. Shakti wanted to become part of Lord's body. She observed the kEdhAra vrata, one of Gods favorite vratas. Pleased by Her austerities God gave the left part of His body to shakti and became ardha nArIshwara(1). The vrata is then called kEdhAra gaurI vrata since Gowri observed it.

When observed
This kedhara vratam is observed for twenty one days starting from shukla paxa dasami (Tenth moonday in its growing face) in the month of purattAchi (mid Sep to mid Oct). The final day (dIpAvaLi) also should be observed in great devotion.

How to observe this vratam
mantras to perform this pUja (pUja vidhAnam)
Install Lord kedhArIshvara svAmi in a filled pot (kalasham). Make a roof (manTapa) above the kalasham. Make vrata threads - 21 fibers having 21 knots. The 16 courtasy worship has to be done for 21 days starting from the purattAchi shukla paxa dasami to aipachi amarapaxa chaturdashi (dIpAvaLi) or amAvAsya. On the culmination day (21st) in a clean decorated area devotionally install the kalasham over the grains spread in a banana leaf and offer various food and fruits to the Lord as offering and donate to others.

Glory
The glory of this vratam is very splendid as shri gauri devi observed this vratam in full devotion and got to be in half the body of Lord Shiva !! viShNu became Lord of vaikunta observing this vratam. braHma got hamsa vehicle, the guards of the eight directions got rid of the bane they got from braHma, bhagyavati and puNyavati got lots of wealth all due to the glory of this vratam. One who observes this vratam with devotion pleases Lord shiva.

purANa of the deity

ardha nAri Ishvarar : half female God (bhOga mUrti)

Sage bR^ingi is one of the ardent devotees of Lord shiva. He used to worship only Lord shiva and not shakti. Goddess shakti, being the power as the name indicate, pulled out the energy from bR^ingi mahaR^ishi's body. Now he was even unable to stand. He pleaded to God. God shiva provided him with a stick. On its support he stood and still worshipped Lord shiva alone. Goddess shakti wanted to become an inseparable part of Lord shiva's form. She oberved the kEdhAra mahA vrata (1) austerity, which is now known as deepAvaLi. Pleased with her austerity, Lord shiva granted her the boon of being part of His form. So the Lord now appeared male on the right side and female on the left side and hence became archanArIshvara.

Significance of this form
This is one of the very important form of God, Hindus worship. This is a much-hailed form in scriptures of various languages. Hindus do not say that the God is only male. God is male - female and neuter too ! Since God is conceptually beyond sex, though gets referred as He/She many times, it is more appropriate to refer as It, especially at Its intrinsic condition, as do many hindu scriptures.

Philosophically, this form is quite associated with the Grace of God. shiva and shakti are one and the same Supreme. The formless God is called parashiva. On Its own free-will for the benefit of pashus (souls), which are drowned in pAsha (bondage), It thinks to create the worlds. Its dynamism of creation thus springs out of It, which is called shakti. Now shiva and Its power shakti create everything. This is the form of their togetherness that springs out of Lord shiva. Because of this the form is associated with the grace of God. shiva and shakti though the same may also act independently. They are associated like the person and the action of the person. They are one and the same like the ice and the water - one becomes the other. For this reason scriptures describe that shakti to shiva is a wife (they are together), mother (shakti becomes shiva - so shiva comes out of shakti) and daughter (shiva become shakti). Poet kAlidAsa hails them as inseparable like the word and its meaning, the letter and pronunciation !!

kalyANa vratam (paNguni uththiram)

kalyANa vratam is one of the eight auspicious vratas. When the Sun is shining in the Pisces sign(mIna rAsi) that is in the month of paN^guni (mid of March to mid of April) on the uththara naxaththiram on the Moons growing face (shukla paxam), this vratam is observed. This is the day Shakthi married Lord Shiva after a great austerity in the Himaalayas, as the daughter of Himavaan. It is also observed as the auspicious day when Lord Muruga married devaseenaa. This vratam is explained in the skandha purANam.

In the morning after getting up, the observer of the vratam should meditate on the charming Lord shiva in the wedding posture with umA. After taking bath and through with other required deeds, should worship the Lord. The golden idol of the God and Goddess ( who can afford to) should be anointed devotionally with holy substances. Then decorating them should make the wedding ceremony of the Goddess with the God. Making the nice and sweet offerings to the divine Parents, should salute them. Inviting the spiritual people who think of good to all the creatures, who have learnt the vEdas and who are devotees of Lord shiva, along with their wives, should host them a feast. Later should go to the shiva temple, worship, circumambulate three times and prostrate in front of the Lord. In the night should dine along with the kind hearted devotees of Lord shiva and eat the sweet dishes like fruits and pAyasam. Should sleep on the dharbai grass. The next morning after regular deeds, should donate the golden idol of God and Goddess to disciplined love hearted people who are the devotees of Lord shiva. Should eat only once that day.

Observing this vratam will get one the great boon of shri Lord sha.nkara's delight. It would bring much joy and comfort in life, lead to the abode of Lord shiva and give the liberation. mahA vishNu got wedded to laxmi sincerely observing this vratam. brahma wedded saraswati, indra wedded indrANi, moon wedded the 27 stars, sage agastiya wedded lobhamudra observing this vratam. The two daughters of vishhNu namely amR^itavalli, saundaryavalli were married to the six faced Lord as devasEna and vaLLI. The daughter of vedAN^ga R^ishhi called sukesi got married to nandi devar.The two daughters of sage satyapUrNar pUrNa, pushhkaLai were wedded to mahA sAsthA. kAma got rathi, sIta got rAma, jAmbhavati got kR^ishhNa, sage saupari got many princess' and so many more benefitted all in the glory of this vratam. The man who observes this vratam will get the girl he likes and the woman gets beautiful man as her husband. The couple who observe this will get good offspring. Anybody who observes with devotion will get His grace.

kalyANa sundarar

purANa of the mUrti:
kalyANa su.ndarar : The beautiful (mUrti )in marriage(bhOga mUrti)

Shakthi was born as pArvati, the daughter of the king of Himalayas. As a young child, She was not interested in playing like the other children. She was more inclined towards meditating on Lord Shiva in the mountains. She desired to marry Lord shiva. For that she wanted to perform austerity in the snow covered himalayas. Her parents hesitated, but finally had to subdue to the determination of pArvati. pArvati performed austerity from an ashram. Lord Shiva who was happy with Her worship, came as an old devotee to her place. pArvati offered Her respect to the Old bhakta of Her Beloved Lord. Now, He tried to convince Her that She shouldn't waste Her youth doing tapas, but should enjoy life getting married ! He further suggested that She could get married to Him, instead of desiring for Lord shiva Who dances in the cemeteries and wears skulls and bones! pArvati, without knowing that He is God Himself, got very angry on hearing the Old man's words and told Him that She showed Him respect only because He seemed like a devotee and She would not want to hear any little blasphemy of God further. She asked the Old Man to leave the place immediately. The Lord, pleased with Her determination and devotion, revealed who He is. pArvati was surprised and begged the pardon of God. However God had accepted Her scolding as the most pleasant hailing. Didn't it come from a very deep love for God ?! He gave Her the boon She yearned for - getting married to Her.

The himalayan king's family was delighted to see their beloved daughter's wedding. The region was decorated and shining with prosperity. The young beautiful pArvati was decorated with chosen best ornaments for the wedding. Now came the Groom - Lord shiva - to the wedding place - on an old bull, with skull and bone ornaments, with the skin of the tiger as the clothing, accompanied by the roar of the bUta gaNas !! The mother of pArvati mEnai fainted to see the groom in such a form for her sweet daughter, softer than the flowers. Now the Lord changed to the form, glittering in a beautiful wedding robe - with golden ornaments and splendid clothing! When mEnai woke up and saw the Groom she was thrilled to see such a beautiful form and was very pleased that He is "the suitable" groom for her daughter. The play of the Lord has no bounds ! mEnai saw only the external appearance of the Groom. Other than the great pArvati who knows the glory of that Groom ?! The enchanting Lord in the wedding robe got married to the Daughter of the mountains and this form of God is called kalyANa sundharar.

shUla vratam

shUla vratam is one of the eight maha vratam. The day when the Sun shines in the makara rAsi that is the thai(pushya) month new moon day is called the shUla vratam day. On that day the observer of the austerity should pray the Lord holding three headed spear (shUla) accompanied by Goddess shakti, after getting up. Then the worship of the God with anointment (abhishekam) and offerings (naivedyam) etc should be done with devotion. Then should worship in the abode of Lord shiva. Donating to the devotees of Lord shiva who wear rudrAxa beads should be done. Only one time meal should be taken along with the devotees.

Observing this shUla vratam would get one the victory over all the enemies, free from the terrific diseases, boon of having offspring and the prosperities. Finally the devotee would get the union in shiva. By observing this vratam mahA vishNu killed the cruel daemon kAla nemi. parashu rAma killed kArta vIryArjuna after observing this vratam. mahA vishNu got rid of a worst head ache because of glory of this vratam. brahma got relieved from his highly painful stomach pain. The highly powerful Lord vIrabhadra(2) explained the greatness of this vratam to bhanu kambha.

vRiShabha vratam
This is one of the eight great austerities. In the time when the Sun is in the R^ishhabha rAsi, that is in the month of vaikAsi (mid May to mid June), on the eigth moon day (ashhTami) in the growing lunar phase (shukla paxam) this vratam is observed.This vratam is described in the skandha purANam.

Getting up early in the morning, the devotee should think and salute the paramEshavara with His consort umA on the bull. Later taking bath being purified, on should start the worship. Could do the worship to the R^ishhabhArUDar(1) form made in gold or silver. The Lord should be anointed with the substances like panychAmR^itam and other holy things with the converging mind on the Lord. Offering to the Lord the rice and derived offerings like pAyasam on should pray to the God. Then to the kind hearted devotees of Lord shiva material should be donated. Worshiping the Lord in the Lord shiva temple and making offerings there should return home in that happiness. Later along with the devotees, eat the rice, sugar-rice, fruits and sweets without spoiling the intent of the austerity. Listen to the glories of Lord shiva until late evening and then sleep on the bare floor relaxedly. The following day after saluting the Lord, donate the idol to a sincere love hearted of Lord shiva.

One who observes this vratam flawlessly would get long life, wealth, wisdom, health and the eight great treasures. vishNu pleasing the paramashivam got lots of treasures and the garuDa(one in the eagle family) as his vehicle. Indra got the elephant called airAvatam, the dEva of fire got the goat, dEva of death the buffello, niruthi got human, dEva of water got crocodile, dEva of air got the deer, kubEra got airplane pushhpaka vimAnam, IshAnar got the ox that resembles the justice, sun got the chariot of one wheel and seven horses, moon got the special ruby airplane as their vehicles by observing the vrata worshiping the R^ishhabhArUDhar. The mahaR^ishhitold once to the king of maharAshhTra vishvasena the things that happened, happening and would happen. The astonished king asked how the mahaR^ishhi got to know these details. The sage told him that it was because of the glory of vR^ishhabha vratam. The king also observed the austerity and got to know these. The king santushhTa worshiping through this vratam got the eight great attainments (ashhTa mahA sidhdhi) and got the moxa. vidhrutha king roamed around with the body in the seven down worlds and the worlds of braHma, vishhNu and Indra, transpiring the knowledge of this vrata to his sons, observing this vratam for a long time, became shiva yOgi. Such glorious is this vratam.

Shiva ratri vratam
Shiva rathri is one of the most auspicious vratas. The purANas explain the significance of this vrata.

History of the shivaratri
Once when everything in all the worlds got reduced into Lord shiva, in that darkness of nothing present, the mother pArvati worshipped Lord shiva in the Agamic way with great devotion. The parameshwar pleased by Her prayer blessed Her. She asked for the benefit of all the creatures that in future whoever worships the Lord on the shiva rAtri day with devotion, they should be blessed and should be given the ultimate liberation. The pashupati granted that showing way for all of us to get blessed easily.

When Brahma and Vishnu fought between themselves as "who is the greatest", Lord Shiva appeared before them as a pillar of fire. They were not able to find the starting and end of that pillar. This day is Thirukkaarthikai.(1)

Then Brahma and Mahavishnu repented for their mistake and prayed to Lord Shiva for forgiving their sin worshiping the shiva li.ngam which is the form of the flame. In the night of Shiva rathri Lord Shiva appeared before them and blessed them. Devotees pray the God throughout the night of Shiva rathri by performing Abisheka, chanting and other holy deeds.

Every month in Krishna paksha chathurdhasi (fourteenth moonday) is called masa Shiva rathri. The one that comes in the month of "Masi" (mid February to mid March) is called Maha Shiva rathri. This is considered as the most important vrata by the devotees.

There are many incidents told about the greatness of this day. Once a hunter in a jungle after searching throughout the jungle, was quite tired and could not get any animal. In the nightfall a tiger started chasing him. to escape from that he climbed a tree. That was a Bilva tree. The tiger sat under the tree waiting for him to come down. The hunter who sat on a branch of the tree was quite tense and didn't want to sleep. He was plucking the leaves and putting down as he was not able to be idle. Below the tree there was a Shiva lingam. The whole night went on like this. God was pleased with the Upavasa (hunger) and the Pooja the hunter and the tiger did even without knowledge. He is the peak of the grace. He gave the hunter and the tiger "Moksha".

In a Shiva temple on a Maha Shiva rathri day the lamp kept in the altar was very dim. That time a mouse which came take its prey touched the flame. Due to the heat it moved its head immediately. In the process it kindled the lamp and the altar was illuminated well. Lord Shiva, pleased by this deed made the mouse Mahabali, the renowned asura king.

There are many incidents like this told in our Puraanas. If we do the vrata with pure devotion and love there can be no doubt about getting the Grace of the Almighty.

When is shivaratri observed
ska.ndha purANam describes about four shiva rAtris. The first one is nitya shivarAtri (daily shivarAtri - every night). The second one is the mAsa shivarAtri which is observed on the kR^iShNa paxa chaturdasi (fourteenth moonday on the moons diminishing phase). The third one is the mAga prathamAdi shivarAtri which is observed for the thirteen days starting from prathama titi in the month mAga (mAsi) and on the chaturdasi night the Lord is worshiped throughout the night.

The fourth one is observed on the mAsi (mAga) month kR^iShNa paxa 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, ornated with thousands of splendid garlands, Who is in the form of the holy symbol of shiva(mahA li.ngam). Bathing and staying clean the worship of Lord shiva in the form of shiva li.ngam is done in the four jamas of the night (four equal time intervals of the night). (Note that the li.nga 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 (li.ngam) from Its true nature of formlessness.)

NAG PANCHAMI

On the fifth day of the bright half of Shravan people worship the snake, or as snakes in India are known, the "nag".

The day is known as "Nag Panchami". The festival falls during the onset of the monsoons and is believed to counter the increased possibility of a snake bite during this time, especially since the rivers are in spate.

People visit temples specially dedicated to snakes and worship them. Shiva temples are also favoured places for veneration as snakes are considered dear to him. In South India, people sculpt images of snakes using cow dung, which are then placed on either side of the entrance to the house. This is done to welcome the snake god. In some other parts of southern India, figures of snakes are drawn with red sandalwood paste on wooden boards, or clay images of snakes coloured yellow or black are purchased. These are then worshipped and offered milk since snakes are believed to like milk. Some go to worship the snake which is believed to be hiding in the holes of anthills. Or else a five hooded snake is made by mixing "gandh" (a fragrant pigment), "halad-kumkum" (turmeric powder), "chandan" (sandal) and "keshar" (saffron) and placed on a metal plate and worshipped.

On this day, devotees pour milk into all the holes in the ground around the house or near the temple to propitiate them. Sometimes, a small pot of milk with some flowers is placed near the holes so that the snakes may drink it. If a snake actually drinks the milk, it is considered to be extremely lucky for the devotee.

Legend has it that the serpents are believed to have the capability to change their shape at will. When in human form, they are depicted as beautiful women and handsome men. The victory of Krishna over the Kaliya snake is commemorated on this day. For this reason Krishna is known as "Kaliya Mardan.

Naga Panchami is observed indifferent ways in different parts of India. One of the oldest festivals, many women fast on this day and in fact it even finds mention in the Puranas. It is believed to be one of the most auspicious days of the entire year. According to the Bhavishya Purana, when men bathe the snakes called Vasuki, Takshaka, Kaliya, Manibhadra, Airavata, Dhritarashtra, Karkotaka and Dhananjaya with milk on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of Shravan, they ensure freedom from danger for their families.

These are then worshipped and offered milk. Snake charmers wander about with all sorts of snakes, to which people offer milk. The snake charmers are paid some money for allowing this Serpent worship developed gradually from the fear of serpents that must have taken a heavy toll on life, particularly at the beginning of the rainy season. In the Ashvalayana Grihyasutra, the Paraskara Grihyasutra and other Grihyasutras, a rite called Sarpabali or 'offerings to serpents' was performed on the full moon night of Shriven. However the reason that it was moved from the full moon night to that of the fifth night of the bright fortnight is not apparent. It may be due to the slight change in the time of the onset of the rains.